Coronavirus: Canadians begin exodus home from Southwest Florida fearing insurance issues
Many Canadians are making an early exodus from Southwest Florida because of insurance concerns related to the coronavirus global pandemic.
With the U.S. announcing Wednesday that the Canadian border would be shutting down for nonessential travel and flights beginning to dwindle, Canadians who usually winter in the area through Easter have changed those plans.
There were five incoming and five outgoing flights to and from Toronto at Southwest Florida International Airport on Wednesday — four each way on Air Canada and one each way on WestJet.
WestJet, which had planned on canceling flights after Saturday, has instead extended flights through Wednesday night, March 25.
Air Canada has yet to announce any flight cancellations.
Canadians comprise about 4.4% of annual visitors to Lee County, the highest of any other country, with 216,762 people visiting in 2019, according to Lee County Visitor and Convention Bureau statistics.
There were about 36,951 Canadian visitors to Collier County in 2018, the most recent statistics reported by Paradise Coast, Collier’s visitor and convention bureau.
For Canadians who haven’t already returned north, most are doing so right now and trying to get back by the end of the day Monday, which is when most out-of-the-country health insurance policies will no longer cover coronavirus issues.
John Hayes, 74, and his wife Julia, 69, explained why they are leaving their Cape Coral home Friday for their Mount Albert, home, north of Toronto about 1,200 miles away.
They bought their home here just after the Great Recession, meaning they got a great deal on the price and an escape from some bitter Canadian winters.
“Usually, we try to get down on the first of December, and we wander back the first of April,” John Hayes said. “This year was different. This year with the coronavirus, we have national health care up there as you know. But when we go out of Canada, we pick up a health insurance rider if you will, which covers us down here in the U.S.
“With the coronavirus, it could cost us a jillion dollars. It’s not a good thing for us to stay in the United States of America.”
Julia Hayes said she anticipated she and her husband would have a mandatory, two-week quarantine when they get home in case they were exposed to the coronavirus, which was fine with her.
“There are people volunteering to go and get food for you,” she said.
Paul McKenna, who splits his time evenly throughout the year between a home near Fort Myers Beach and another on Prince Edward Island, is preparing to return to Canada but not during this weekend’s rush.
“A million people will be heading back on the roads,” McKenna said. “It will be full bore. There’s 300,000 Quebecans, and they’re all heading back. They all want to head back this weekend. I’m looking to get back early, too. Just not this weekend.”
McKenna said he realized he ran the risk of not being able to find a flight back, in which case he would drive.
Annie Coquette and her husband said they lucked out with their December decision to drive an RV to Indian Creek, not far from Fort Myers Beach and the Sanibel Causeway.
Coquette had planned on riding her bicycle from Fort Myers to Key West with Ends of the Earth Cycling, a charity that raised $45,000 for a Christian missionary in Romania. With the ride canceled, she considered it a sign.
“Our plan was to go back April 18,” said Coquette, who is a commercial insurance underwriter and works remotely. “I was praying to God to tell me what I should do. When I received that call, I felt that was the call for me to go home.
“Usually, we always fly. But this year, we said, why don’t we take our RV and drive to Florida? That’s another God thing. We didn’t know at the time that the coronavirus would happen. When we go back, we can sleep in that. We can park in Walmart parking lots. It’s free, and there’s the grocery in case we need anything.”
This story originally published to news-press.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the USA TODAY Network - Florida.