What Is it Like Inside a COVID-19 Quarantine Hotel?

What Is it Like Inside a COVID-19 Quarantine Hotel?

May 30, 2021 · 13 min. readThis article may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

When I walked into the lobby of the Kyiv International Airport, I was surrounded by bald men in leather jackets. Each of them was a taxi driver, and I was a Westerner – somebody with lots of money and no sense of direction. However, as I had read up on these men earlier, I chose to ignore them all.

"Those men aren't there anymore", my friend Kate told me. That isn't her real name, but her experience was real enough. These days the airport is empty, and visitors aren't allowed. However, those men are still waiting outside, and there's just a lot less of them.

"Also, please don't go with them. They aren't real taxi drivers. They're just trying to make money. It's better to just call an Uber."

We laughed. Our interview was over Zoom, as Kate was self-isolating for two weeks at her apartment in Regina. She had just returned from travelling to Ukraine to visit her family. She likes to go every year but couldn't in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She wasn't sure if she should go this year either.

"It was not an easy decision to travel in such uncertain times."

The pandemic has killed over 25,000 Canadians and over 50,000 Ukrainians in the past sixteen months, and travelling was not recommended.

"But it was worth it."

Kate may have travelled to Ukraine during Orthodox Easter, but the purpose of the trip was the baptism of her newborn nibling. She is from a small town in Ukraine of only 30,000 people, but the town has been struck with the pandemic. Just about everybody had gotten sick. There's a different attitude towards COVID-19 over there than in Canada. In Ukraine, she said, people just know they are going to get sick. It's unavoidable. There's nothing they can do. So, they may as well just live their life.

While in Ukraine, Kate got to see her parents, grandparents, and friends. She played with the kids, painted Ukrainian Easter eggs, and broke loaves of Easter Bread with her loved ones.

St. Volodymyr's Cathedral in Kyiv where I visited in 2016 at Easter

(The above picture I took in Kyiv in 2016. You can see more in my Easter Sunday in Kyiv article.)

Her favourite part of Orthodox Easter is the midnight church services. They have services from midnight until four in the morning, all the while celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Although it is her favourite part of the Easter season, she chose not to participate this year.

"But what about the chocolate bunnies?" I joke. "You like church more than those?"

She laughed. Nobody in Ukraine eats chocolate bunnies at Easter. Nor chocolate eggs. The obsession between rabbits and Easter is a North American enigma, and Ukrainians don't want to understand it. Instead, they eat real eggs. And yes, she likes the church more than eggs.

But going to Ukraine was simple. It was coming back to Canada that was complicated.

Before boarding the Air Canada flight from her stopover in Amsterdam, Kate needed to provide proof that she had taken and received a negative PCR test within 72 hours. She was also given a COVID-19 questionnaire that she had to fill out. Once it was completed, she had to provide it, her PCR test and her travel documents to the boarding officer before she could get on the plane.

As the quarantine hotel requirements only apply to air travellers, many Canadians are getting around it by flying to an American border city and crossing into Canada by foot. However, because Kate is Ukrainian, she needs a VISA to enter the United States. Going in by foot wasn't an option. It is easier to just fly into Canada and deal with the quarantine hotel upon arrival.

When she arrived in Canada, she was instructed to install the ArriveCAN app on her phone. She pre-emptively installed it and gave the code to the boarding officer. After the officer confirmed the number, Kate asked if she was eligible to go home since she had passed the PCR test. Instead, she was informed she still needed to book a hotel.

Following the boarding officer, Kate was sent to a public health agent to arrange her accommodations. She had two choices. One was a list of hotels in the Calgary area, with prices ranging from $120 to $500 a night. The other was to stay at The Westin Calgary Airport for free.

This is interesting as the Government of Canada website lists five hotels in Calgary that travellers can stay at, none of which are The Westin, and none of which are free. In fact, the Government of Canada website specifically says that travellers must "pay for all costs associated with the 3-night stay at the hotel, including any damage to the hotel room or property".

Naturally, Kate chose the free Westin Hotel, as did a few other travellers who did not pre-book their hotel.

Kate and the other travellers were then escorted to a test station to get their throats swabbed. They then took individual shuttles to the hotel.

View from inside shuttle, with a plastic window between the backseat passenger and the driver

The hotel was like a "little vacation", she said. It reminded her of The Sandman Hotel in Saskatoon. It was a four-star hotel and provided them with three free meals a day. They were also allowed to go for a half-hour walk in the courtyard. Outside of that, however, they were not allowed to leave their room.

Hotel room Menu at The Westin Hotel One of the free meals Another of the free meals

When Kate arrived at the hotel, all the timeslots were taken for the walk, so she just went up to her room and spent the night there. The next morning, they called and asked her to book her time. She chose 3PM.

At 2:50PM, she got a call to confirm she still wanted to do her half-hour walk. She said yes, and was escorted by a nurse through the hotel, through plastic-lined hallways, to a desolate concrete courtyard. The courtyard was decorated with eight concrete pillars, each with crisscrossing wooden beams above them. The only plants were three small trees in the corner. Beyond that, there was no greenery or life to be seen.

Plastic-lined hallway Courtyard to walk in

The nurse stood by the door and told Kate that they would inform her when her time was over. Kate then began walking but within only a few minutes, the doors open again, and another nurse arrived. There was a new arrival at the hotel, and they needed to go through the courtyard. Kate's time would be rescheduled.

Again, this goes against government policy, as the Government of Canada website states "During your outdoor time, you're required to wear a non-medical mask and maintain a 2-metre distance from others." Kate should have been allowed to continue her walk, as long as the other traveller gave her the necessary space.

Kate was then rushed back up to her room and was told to wait until she could resume her walk. While there, she got a message that her airport COVID-19 test result had come back negative. She followed the instructions given to her by the public health agent and contacted The Canadian Red Cross with her negative result.

Instructions from Red Cross

The Red Cross then informed Kate that another nurse would be arriving shortly to witness the negative result and pass it off to the Quarantine Officer. Because of this, Kate chose not to go for her walk as she didn't want to miss the call. It took two hours until the nurse arrived. They then took a picture of the result with their phone and told Kate they would take up to 24 hours to process it. Instead, it took another two hours.

Once the Quarantine Officer gave her the approval to leave, Kate called WestJet and had them "unfreeze" her flight between Calgary and Regina. Shortly after, The Red Cross called her and informed her that a shuttle to the airport would arrive at 7PM. At 6:55PM, two Red Cross representatives came with a trolley to her room to get her luggage. The ladies were "so nice and sweet" and were always smiling, doing their best to make the experience the easiest as it could be.

When she arrived at the airport, she had to show the boarding officer her new COVID-19 test result, and she was finally given clearance to fly.

She would arrive in Regina that night and be taken to her apartment by her boyfriend. She then had to self-isolate for two weeks. She also has to submit daily health updates to the ArriveCAN app every morning. On the eighth day of her quarantine, she also needs to do a self-serve COVID-19 test over a video conference with a nurse. Once it is done, she puts the specimen in the fridge and a courier will come and get it at a later date.

But the process upon arriving baffled Kate. Why did she have to do another test from her apartment? She already did one test in Kyiv, one test in Calgary and can't leave her apartment for two weeks. At no point would she have contacted the virus.  

"Canada has a really severe system of requirements for travellers." She said. There are "a lot of rules, a lot of tests, and a lot of self-isolation. More than you need, really, just to stay on the safe side."

At the time of writing, Kate has done her video conference with the nurse, submitted her final COVID-19 test, and is waiting one more week before she can finally go for her walk – and get her vaccine. In the meantime, she's spending her days working remotely, watching movies, and spending time with her cat, who is very happy to have her home.

At-home COVID-19 test

Thank you to Kate for sharing her experience in a quarantine hotel. The experience was not what the Government of Canada website listed it would be like. Not only did she stay at a non-government authorized hotel, but she also stayed for free, and didn't have to stay three nights. Although it wasn't the experience the Government of Canada said it would be, it definitely was a hassle and something I don't think I'll be doing any time soon.

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What Is it Like Inside a COVID-19 Quarantine Hotel? What Is it Like Inside a COVID-19 Quarantine Hotel?

And, as always, a big thank you to my sweetheart Jessica Nuttall for proof-reading a countless number of my articles. I couldn't do any of this without you. I love you.

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