When lockdown was first announced in Ontario in March 2020, I assumed we would have to suffer through two weeks of at-home school and learning with my three children (who were four, six, and nine at the time) without much guidance from the provincial government. I was scared, stressed and annoyed that, as a single mom, I’d have to work through it all alone while trying to keep my job. Thirteen months, four (and counting!) lockdowns, and thousands of deaths and infections later, my worst fear came to life: my family caught Covid-19 after taking every single precaution during the entire pandemic. It came to us by way of my kids’ elementary school.
During the most recent Easter long weekend, my kids’ elementary school in Toronto sent a note saying that our middle kid was exposed to a positive Covid case the week before, and informed us that our family, as well as their dad’s household, must quarantine and await further instructions. By Tuesday of that week, we were asked to test the one child, but by then all three kids were starting to show symptoms (they share a bedroom). Once it was confirmed that my seven-year-old was positive, we knew all the kids would be sick. By Friday evening (five days after Patient Zero tested positive), I was showing signs, too. The following weekend, it was confirmed that we all had Covid-19, the UK (since named the Alpha) variant. Days one and two, my symptoms were very mild but by the end of day three, things took a turn.
Dealing with public health
Once Toronto Public Health confirmed that our family all had the more severe and highly contagious variant, we were informed by TPH that we must quarantine for 10 days after the latest of us had symptoms develop, which was on April 19. When we first interacted with nurses during our tests, as well as TPH, we offered up the case number provided based on the exposure logged at my kids’ school. No one would take it. We were told that it was considered contact tracing and due to the one billion dollars the Conservatives cut from public health budgets since taking seat in Ontario, TPH simply didn’t have the resources to track cases. Because of this, our case (which infected a minimum of six people — me, my three kids, their dad and his girlfriend) is not considered an at-school exposure and was not logged.
I couldn’t help but feel angry at the fact that, after failing the people of the province over and over again, this was simply another attempt by Education Minister Stephen Lecce, Minister of Health Christine Elliott and Premier Doug Ford to undermine the true effects of the pandemic on our province, particularly as it pertains to schools.
The resilience of children
While Covid took me out, my kids suffered mostly mild symptoms — one had a sore throat, fatigue and fever, along with lingering stomach pain, while the other two had low fever and gastroenteritis. They all recovered partially within about six days, and fully by day 10. I, on the other hand, was not so lucky.
On average, Covid survival rates vary by age. Children under the age of 18 fare quite well. Statisa reports less than 20 kids under the age of 18 who have died of Covid in Canada. Compare that to my age-range of 19-44 with around 300 deaths, with cases continuing to climb making me feel ever more scared with every passing day. In Ontario in particular, our governments failed the elderly, with more than 20,000 deaths in the over 60 age range in the last 15 months.
The scariest part of Covid
While experiences vary person-to-person, for me, it was the ever-changing symptoms. Although on the surface Covid survival rates seem high with only around 2.3 per cent of people succumbing to the disease, the more infectious variants make exposure not only more likely, and but symptoms more severe. While active new cases have been trending downward in the province since late May (in part thanks to vaccination efforts), ICU cases and overall hospitalizations aren’t changing too much, and that’s due, in part, to the strength of new variants like the Alpha we caught back in April.
I kept a log of my symptoms with Covid and they changed nearly every day. For me, some of my worst symptoms included: fever, a strep-like throat, back pain, headaches, extreme exhaustion (I would have to sleep for hours every day), difficulty breathing that was so severe that I couldn’t get through a short sentence without stopping to gasp for air, and violent body pain so extreme that it would wake me in the night. Just getting out of bed for the day was an extreme feat of will, and it felt like it would never end.
One of the weirdest symptoms for me was the day that I was sitting on my couch watching movies with my kids and my back started radiating with a tingling pain. I immediately texted a friend who is a Covid nurse and she gently explained, “that’s your lungs, they’re inflamed. Please go lie prone (on your stomach) for a few hours to help it subside.”
All in all, I was very sick for around 13 days, and had another 10 days of extreme fatigue until I was lucky enough to get my AstraZeneca shot which cleared my fatigue up, but many symptoms still remain.
How we survived
When it was first confirmed that we were all positive for Covid, I reached out to my network on social media letting people know of our predicament and asking if people were available to drop off the things we needed. My community came out in droves.
While no one could come into my house (which would have been very helpful), we had daily deliveries of prescriptions (I required two puffers for my lungs), throat lozenges, children’s pain meds, snacks and food. In fact, many friends sent gift cards for food delivery services and that honestly saved us all. I couldn’t stand for more than a few minutes at a time, and not having to worry about dinner was all the help I needed to make it through. But things aren’t back to normal just yet.
While my kids have physically recovered, the struggle to survive endless lockdowns and homeschooling is still with us. Everyone is suffering from PTSD from our experience with Covid while we just try to make it through to day camp now that summer is here. On top of the mental health repercussions, we’re all struggling with, I have lingering body pain including intense sciatica and piriformis issues which I try and mitigate with daily at-home yoga. Additionally, there’s the severe insomnia, an ongoing “smokers’ cough” (I don’t smoke) and a decreased lung capacity. I get headaches, am often exhausted, and struggle focusing on work tasks.
Fear of the future
With more people being vaccinated, and our government slowly lifting restrictions, I’m absolutely terrified of what may come. Variants are becoming smarter, and are causing our vaccines to be less effective, particularly for those who have only had one dose. People seem to be dropping their defences. But we’re not there yet, and things can’t just simply go back to normal.
Thousands have died in Canada, and thousands more, like me, have various lingering symptoms from permanent lung damage to physical disabilities. If we go back to normal, we simply ignore the after-effects of this painful, and damaging disease. And I, for one, don’t think we can ignore the long-term effects Covid had on our society physically, emotionally and mentally.