COVID exposure for City’s Aitken means quarantine, deepened insight into community

David Aitken has had a front row seat for the City of Edmonton’s COVID-19 story.

As chair of the City’s COVID Respond and Relaunch Task Team, Aitken has helped write the story. Recreation Centre closures and reopenings, the face covering bylaw, dog parks, meetings with health officials, meetings with transit officials and more and more and on and on, Aitken has been right there, hour by hour, in the public health pressure cooker.

He’s now gotten another kind of front-row seat: COVID quarantine.

Aitken has safely come through two weeks of self-isolation after being exposed to a family member with COVID-19. Suddenly, the person with the answers became the person with the questions.

“Yes, it’s a little weird,” said Aitken. “Was it only a matter of time? You feel a little guilty. How did it happen to you? Was I slack? Undisciplined? Not thinking to allow a close family member over? How many interactions with other people might they have had?”

And he’s the person with a renewed appreciation for all Edmontonians who limit their freedom and movement for the greater good.

Said Aitken: “The choice people make to be ever vigilant, disciplined and caring enough for the well being of others to stay at home, is a difficult one—no easy task I’m finding.”

David Aitken at news conference in City Hall, Edmonton, August 11, 2020.

Aitken’s quarantine—he was never COVID positive, a throat swab test confirmed—happened against the backdrop of a spike in active cases in the Edmonton zone. Of the 3,138 active cases in the province, 1,604 (51 per cent) are in the Edmonton zone, according to the latest report.

The province has implemented a series of voluntary public health measures and underlined the need to self-isolate when exposed to the illness, even if symptoms do not appear. And to stay home, if possible, when ill and waiting for test results.

“The choice people make to be ever vigilant, disciplined and caring enough for the well being of others to stay at home, is a difficult one—no easy task I’m finding.”

Aitken said he understands the reasons why people feel they don’t have to quarantine.

“I hear that some people can’t afford to stay home, are needed at work, have bills to pay, or maybe, it’s all a conspiracy,” he said. “For sure, I understand. Everyone has a unique situation, pressures, needs and wants.”

But, and it’s big but:

“The death of a friend, family member, co-worker, grandparent like me, or infecting someone else unknown can have a devastating impact, that you can never take back,” he said.

So, this year, Thanksgiving for Aitken was just he and his wife. Friends dropped off groceries. He watched for symptoms that didn’t appear. He worked from home. He left only to get tested and out to the back yard. In his spare time, he played more board games and watched a little more TV. Throughout, he followed the advice of the Alberta Health Services contact tracer.

And he thought about community. How it’s built in countless, unseen gestures of kindness.

“People need to think about a collective and community approach,” Aitken said. “I think those who think about themselves and only themselves forget others. Community means sacrificing for the betterment of all. You may not get any praise or pat on the back, but you can look at yourself in the mirror and know you did your little part.”

Aitken said his family member with COVID is feeling relieved that family and friends tested negative, and they have no lingering side effects from the virus.

Editor’s note: the pic at the top of the post shows David Aitken at a news conference in City Hall, August 11, 2020.