The raw numbers: How COVID-19 is changing our relationships at home, work and in our communities

By Kate Graham

For most Canadians, the COVID-19 outbreak has meant an abrupt and dramatic lifestyle change. Professionals whose calendars were once filled with travel commitments, events in multiple locations per day, and endless meetings now find themselves anchored at home. Children are missing their teachers and classmates while trying to adapt to learning from home. Seniors in retirement and care homes who once looked forward to communal meals and visits from family are now isolated in their rooms. Healthcare, frontline and essential service workers find themselves busier than ever with the added stresses and risks of a pandemic.

For many of us, the change has been profound.

But how has this impacted our relationships with one another? How connected are we feeling to our families, our neighbours, and the places where we live?

A survey of 2,100 Canadians, conducted for the Institut urbain canadien by the team at Vox Pop Labs, finds our sense of connection to one another is indeed changing.

First, for many Canadians, family dynamics are changing: 66 per cent of respondents indicate some change in how connected they feel to their families as a result of COVID-19. Two in five (39 per cent) are feeling more connected to their families, while one in four (27 per cent) feel less connected. One in ten respondents feels much less connected.

When it comes to neighbourhood and community dynamics, the results are interesting – and quite mixed. When Canadians were asked about how connected they feel to their neighbourhood during the COVID-19 outbreak, 51 per cent report feeling about the same, 30 per cent feel less connected, and 19 per cent feel more connected. There are more people (37 per cent) who feel less connected to their city than there are people who feel more connected (16 per cent).

Interestingly, one group we are feeling more connected to is our elected officials. Surely daily press conferences and highly visible crisis communications is at least in part responsible for why 33 per cent of Canadians feel more connected to their political leaders, while only 16% feel less connected.

How will these numbers change as this pandemic proceeds – particularly if physical distancing continues for weeks or months to come? Only time will tell. What we can expect is that these changed relationship dynamics will impact what life post-COVID-19 looks like, and how we settle back in to a new normal.

Even before COVID-19, we lived in a time when more people live alone than ever before and many people feel lonely, isolated and disconnected. Mental health struggles and anxiety rates were already a growing concern in cities across Canada, and many experts are projecting that this will intensify as a result of the pandemic.

Although we often say that “we’re all in this together” if we emerge feeling more apart and less connected to each other, we will have our work cut out for us to build more engaged, inclusive, and connected cities.

Dr. Kate Graham is the Director of Research at the Canadian Urban Institute