Student disappointed as Atlantic bubble bursts

The re-opening of the Atlantic bubble has been delayed following a surge of COVID-19 cases in New Brunswick. The delay has created a lot of problems for students who had planned to travel home for reading week.

Marykate O’Neill

Student Matt Pennell in his dorm room at Rothesay Netherwoods school.
Grade 12 student Matt Pennell studies at Rothesay Netherwood School in New Brunswick. His family resides in St. John’s, N.L.,  and he was greatly looking forward to seeing them after the Atlantic bubble was set to re-open April 19. Photo submitted by Pamela Pennell.

The Atlantic bubble was set to re-open April 19 but is now delayed until May 3. The delay has put a halt to students’ plans to travel home for their reading week.

The Atlantic bubble is an agreement among the region’s premiers that allows residents to travel freely throughout New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Prince Edward Island without having to self-isolate upon arrival.

The premiers discussed re-opening the bubble after case numbers decreased significantly within the four provinces earlier this year. The decision was delayed after a surge of cases in New Brunswick.

Matt Pennell, a Grade 12 student at Rothesay Netherwood School in Rothesay, N.B., was heartbroken to hear the news. Planning to travel home to see his family and friends during reading week, he is now stuck in Rothesay.

Matt says being a student away from home is hard, but the Atlantic bubble has provided relief for him and others studying away from their home province.

“The Atlantic bubble provides many benefits for me,” said Matt. “The main benefit is being able to travel home to see loved ones.”

Matt hasn’t seen his family since Christmas and was looking forward to a weekend getaway home.

“When the bubble got delayed, I felt very disappointed,” said Matt. “I had a trip planned to go home and the fact that the bubble was postponed with exam scheduling means I will not get home for another while.”

Hard on mental health

Matt says the inability to go home has been a huge weight on his mental health.

“It’s mentally exhausting not being able to see family and friends for so long, and I think people’s mental health should play a bigger role in the decision-making,” said Matt. “Of course, safety comes first, but a lot of people are struggling right now, and I feel that as an 18-year-old kid who has not seen family in so long.”

The delay affected more than just the students. Matt’s family misses him just as much as he misses them.

Matt’s mother, Pamela, says the Atlantic bubble brought her ease during the COVID-19 pandemic. Knowing she or Matt could travel to see each other easily made the decision of learning away from home a lot easier.

“We were so grateful for the Atlantic bubble because it allowed us to travel freely,” Said Pamela. “Then when long weekends came such as Thanksgiving and Remembrance Day weekend, our son could fly home and have that much needed break with his family.”

The delay of the opening of the Atlantic bubble caused a lot of sadness and disappointment for the Pennell family – especially for Matt, who was greatly looking forward to going home.

“It was hard for him to see the positive in anything,” Pamela said. ” It brought all the negatives since last March to the forefront, and he questioned if things will ever get back to normal. As a parent, it was hard to watch the excitement and enthusiasm that he had leading up to his trip home dwindle.”

Matt is looking forward to completing his exams and graduating from Rothesay, so he can spend some time with his family and loved ones before he attends St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S. He and his family are hoping the Atlantic bubble will work out so he can travel home during his breaks from university.

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