This story is part of WDET’s Crossing the Lines: Canton Battles COVID series, reconnecting listeners with the people they met and issues they discovered during WDET’s 2019 Crossing the Lines Canton. Now, two years later, explore how the township of Canton has fared during the coronavirus pandemic and examine how the lives of residents have changed over the past year.
When the pandemic hit, the Canton Public Library started reaching out to 250 seniors in its patron database to make sure they were doing OK. What librarians found is that things are tough.
“For people who are living in a senior living facility or living alone in a house or condo, those people are much more isolated. And their basic needs are harder to be met,” says Laurie Golden, department head of community relations at Canton Public Library. “Also just missing that human connection and missing out on the socialization is what’s really taking a toll on a lot of the seniors.”
“It’s fortunate we’re together. Otherwise, life would have been very difficult.” –Harjit Kaur, on living with her son’s family
When the library expanded its outreach to leaders of the area’s Muslim and Sikh communities, staff heard a different story. Many of these families tended to be multigenerational, meaning they include three or more generations under one roof.
About 3% of Michigan households are estimated to be multigenerational. A portion of those families are estimated to be located in Canton Township’s East Indian community.
Golden says a lot of these families are having their needs met.
“They’re not worrying so much about how they’re getting their groceries or services like that. And they’re also being surrounded with those connections, those people in their lives are still present in their lives,” says Golden.
More Time Spent Together
TejKiran Singh is active in Canton’s Sikh community and one of the leaders the library spoke to. Singh lives with his wife, 10-year-old daughter, and mother, Harjit Kaur.
“It’s fortunate we’re together. Otherwise, life would have been very difficult,” says Kaur, through Singh’s translation.
Singh says the pandemic meant his family got to spend a lot more time with his mother. Like many people, he bought a fire pit and they started gathering around it regularly. Singh says sitting around the pit meant more time for his mother and the family to talk, and for them to listen to music and prayers. “Every night we would spend at least four hours together,” says Singh.
Translating for me, Singh asks his mom how she feels when she thinks about other people her age who haven’t been able to live with their families during the pandemic.
“She says ‘Very, very, very, very bad,’” says Singh. “She wishes everybody had to be with the family, especially during this time the family should have been together. She thinks the kids should have taken initiatives to bring them in the home rather than leaving them alone there. This would have been a good, good time for them to show that love.”
Taking Added Precautions
Singh admits that living with his elderly mother during the pandemic has brought challenges as well. He and his wife were able to work from home but they still worried about infecting Kaur.
The family told visitors to meet them outside, they stocked up on hand sanitizer and gloves. Singh says he had his brother — who lives elsewhere — do most of the grocery shopping. His brother would drop the food off on a table in the garage.
“He will put all the groceries there. The groceries will not come in for 48 hours, we kept it outside. And then my wife would have filled up the sinks with warm or hot water and threw everything in and we both washed it, cleaned it up and then put it in the refrigerators. Because of her,” explains Singh, gesturing toward his mother.
Potential Risks of Multigenerational Living
Not all Canton residents, however, have been as cautious as Singh’s family. Wayne County Chief Health Officer Dr. Mouhanad Hammami says Asian Americans in Canton have seen higher rates of COVID-19 than in most other communities.
“This is because of the concentration of a high East Indian community that are living in Canton,” says Hammami.
Throughout Wayne County officials have seen disproportionate rates of COVID-19 in Arab American, Bengali and Hispanic populations, too. Hammami says more research still needs to be done on why these communities are seeing higher rates of infections, but anecdotally the groups share some commonalities, one of which is their familial bonds.
Listen: TejKiran Singh and his mother, Harjit Kaur, reflect on living together during the pandemic.
“The social aspects of how they interact, the family ties, as compared to other communities are a little stronger,” says Hammami. “There is the multigenerational interaction sometimes in the same house, having the grandparent, the parents and the grandchildren and all those moving in different directions.”
While multigenerational living may increase quality of life for some seniors, it could also potentially increase the risk of contracting COVID-19. Yet, people like Harjit Kaur, living with family members who take extra precautions may be experiencing the best of both worlds — less isolation, more support and moderate to low risks of contracting the virus.
“When I say COVID has done so much damage to the community, I can’t be that selfish to say ‘Oh, it worked very well for us,’” says Singh. “But if you say forget everything, forget the bad things this disease has done, just be a little selfish for two seconds, it’s done really well so far for our family.”