In a normal year, more than 300,000 Canadian snowbirds would be preparing right now to head south for the winter for an extended stay in a warm place. The most popular destinations for them are Florida, Arizona and California. But this is not a normal year. COVID-19 is raging in the U.S., especially in those states, and the border between Canada and the U.S. remains closed at least until November 21. They could still fly but most prefer to drive so they have their cars with them all winter. This seemed like a good time to check in with our snowbird neighbours to see whether they’ll be going or staying home this winter.

Ken and Pat enjoy the golf and tennis

Pat and Ken have been driving to Florida for an extended period for the past 15 years but this year they’ll be staying home. They always rent in the same complex south of Clearwater and they have made a lot of American and Canadian friends in the community of 400 villas. Those friendships are “something we’ll really miss,” Pat said.

They’re unhappy about staying home but feel there’s a lack of leadership regarding COVID-19 in the U.S., Ken said. Most of their Canadian friends are not going but they were glad to hear that northern Americans are picking up some of the slack for rental properties.

They think the people in Florida will miss the Snowbirds for their spending, not only for restaurants and accommodation but also in the stores. Pat really enjoys the shopping there. Both Pat and Ken are keen tennis players and love the clay courts at their complex because clay is easier on the knees. They also golf, swim, play pickleball and walk in the sunshine. “And everyone goes out for dinner,” Pat laughed.

So what will they be doing this winter? They plan to play tennis at Tam Heather and go through all the boxes of slides they’ve taken in 54 years of marriage.

Brad and Beth will miss the people

Brad and Beth have gone south to get away from Canadian winters for the past eight years. Most of the time they have rented for three months or so at a complex in North Fort Myers. It’s a wonderful place for seniors to stay active with things like yoga, zumba, a library, a choir, pool fitness, golf and tennis.

“I do pool fitness, read, drink and love the heat,” Beth said. Brad enjoys golf and he plays tennis. They ride around in golf carts and everything is provided onsite except for groceries. Beth said the people are very friendly and although many own their own places, half are renters.

But the couple won’t be going south this winter. “We’re not going to travel due to COVID,” Beth said. “Any kind of travel is risky right now.”

To keep themselves occupied, Brad has joined tennis at Tam Heather and Beth is a member of the St. Dunstan’s Crafties. She has been making hats and bags for medical personnel since April and said the activity gives her “a great sense of purpose.”

Ron and Lesley taking it in stride

Winter coats, woollies and boots at the home of Lesley and Ron will be getting a lot more wear during the impending cold season. For the last 10 years, these warm clothes were worn for only a few weeks each winter because Lesley and Ron spent the coldest months in one of the warmest places in North America. The Gulf Coast of Florida called to them each year where they formed strong friendships and a great lifestyle of rest and relaxation, mixed in with lots of tennis and pickleball.

The pandemic has changed their plans for this winter. Lesley felt that it is not safe to travel to Florida with the large number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. “Our wedding anniversary will be celebrated in the cold this time around, after years of warm celebrations,” said Lesley.

Many of their friends who travelled in the winter will be staying home this year, so they are in good company with their decision not to travel south. She and Ron are taking this new pandemic lifestyle reality in stride and they will make the best of life to get through this challenging time. Indoor tennis, if permitted, and socially distanced visits with family and friends and memories of the Florida sunshine will serve to keep them warm this season.

Bob and Fern hoping for a silver lining

Fern and Bob have been going to Florida for the last 25 years to get a respite from the cold for a few weeks each year. “Looks like not this year,” said Fern. They do not know what it will be like with COVID-19 and they are not in a position for the next few weeks to make a commitment to travel south.

Fern and Bob looked forward to meeting up in Florida with friends from different parts of Ontario each year. They are both golfers and will miss getting out on the courses in Florida this winter season. “We’re not looking forward to facing all of winter without a warm break,” said Fern wistfully.

Even if there is a vaccine for COVID-19, they don’t expect that it will be available to them until well past winter. So Fern and Bob will use their time at home to continue to sort out and settle things after a major renovation in their basement due to an unfortunate flooding situation. A little extra time at home this winter may well be a silver lining as Fern and Bob get their home back to normal and they get to spend more time with their family.

Nora and Steve are undecided

Nora and Steve love to spend winters in Arizona where they feel the temperature is just right – not too hot, not too cold. This year, however, the couple is divided on whether to travel to the Grand Canyon state.

“Steve is 110 percent ready to go,” said Nora. “In his mind I think he’s already packing his bags, but I’m still sitting on the fence.” Steve feels the risk of catching COVID in Arizona is minimal because the couple stays in a 55-plus community where many of the seniors remain on-site for the most part. Nora is concerned because she and Steve will still have to leave the park grounds to shop or buy groceries, which makes her nervous.

“I wish I had more information about what is going on down there,” said Nora, who gets most of her information from the resort. “It also worries me when I hear that some Americans are against wearing masks.”

Steve is eager to go because he can be active playing baseball on one of the many organized teams at the resort. Nora loves the wide array of activities on offer, but she sticks to indoor recreation, which she worries may increase her risk. For now, the couple will watch the numbers, but they will have to decide soon about whether to cancel their booking contract.