Tag Archives: families

Families eager for results as drug companies test vaccines for use on children, teens

On an unusually warm spring morning, a class of seventh and eighth graders exits the doors of Charles Gordon Senior Public School in Scarborough, Ont. They walk single file through the yard, masked and distanced from each other by a strict two metres — a sign of the times in Toronto, where kids only recently returned to in-person schooling after another lockdown.

The day’s lesson is about COVID-19 vaccines, and appropriately, it was being held at an outdoor classroom. Students had been asked to read up on the vaccines and present questions they would like to ask Canadian officials about the inoculations and their distribution.

As vaccines roll out among older adults, many of the questions from this group of students focused on the fact that children aren’t on the current inoculation schedule. Of the vaccines approved in Canada so far, only the Pfizer vaccine has been cleared for people as young as 16 years old, and the other three are currently meant for ages 18 and up.

Their teacher, Tracey Toyama, said the lesson was a natural extension of current events. “They see it every day on social media; they come in, they ask questions,” she said.

“Why are children not more prioritized in terms of receiving the COVID-19 vaccine?” asked one girl.

“Why wouldn’t we vaccinate children so that they don’t put those who are vulnerable at risk?” asked another.

Indeed, since most children tend to experience milder cases of COVID-19, they weren’t prioritized in international vaccine trials. Still, kids do get sick and they can pass on the virus.

In fact, more than 157,000 Canadians aged 19 or younger have caught COVID-19. So until both adults and children are inoculated against the virus, it’s unlikely society will be able to go back to normal.

Students at Charles Gordon Senior Public School in Scarborough, Ont., hold some of their classes outdoors during the pandemic. During this lesson, students discuss the questions they would like to ask Canadian officials about the vaccines and their distribution. (Sarah Bridge/CBC)

In recognition of this, a number of vaccines are now being tested on younger people.

Drug maker Sinovac submitted data to the Chinese government this week saying its vaccine is safe for children between the ages of three and 17.

Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Johnson & Johnson are now testing their COVID-19 vaccines on younger kids, too. Moderna’s trial includes children as young as six months old. Early data from Pfizer on its trials for children aged 12 years and older is expected soon.

Quebec-based Medicago, which is working through Phase 3 adult trials for its plant-based COVID-19 vaccine, says it has plans to move on to younger age groups as data emerges.

According to Nathalie Charland, a senior director with Medicago, the trials will be similar to those they’ve conducted with people aged 18 and up, though children will likely receive half the vaccine dosage.

Along with monitoring each of the test cases to make sure they’re safe, she said, “We will be looking at the immunogenicity of the vaccine candidate to see if what we saw in adults is the same that we see in children.”

Medicago has been conducting clinical trials of its plant-based COVID-19 vaccine on people aged 18 years and older. Nathalie Charland, a senior director with Medicago, says her company has plans to test the vaccine on younger age groups as well. (Medicago)

Dr. Noni MacDonald with Dalhousie University in Halifax said vaccinating children is “incredibly important.”

She said adults were “rightly” prioritized for COVID-19 vaccines because, “children have not been shown to be the big vector of transmitting this virus from one person to another; it’s mostly adults and young people.”

However, MacDonald added, “The problem we have is we know that we need to have the community immunity happen. So, if we have big pockets of children that are not immunized, that community is not immune.”

With variants circulating, she said, the impetus to vaccinate children as soon as possible is strong.

“This is not the end,” she said. “This is a wicked virus and we need to control it in all the ways we can.”

That urgency is especially acute in households where a family member is immunocompromised.

Torontonian Amerie Alvis, 15, has been worried about bringing the virus home to her mom this past year. Her mother, Jaeda Larkin, is a single parent with rheumatoid arthritis.

“What if she does get sick, and I’m all alone?” Alvis said.

Jaeda Larkin, left, and her daughter Amerie Alvis. Amerie has chosen to do online schooling until she is able to get vaccinated, in order to minimize the risk of contracting COVID-19. (Sarah Bridge/CBC)

At nearly 16 years old, Alvis should be eligible for the Pfizer vaccine in a few months and said she is “all for it.”

In the meantime, she has chosen to do online schooling rather than go back to class, in order to minimize the risk to herself and her mom. Alvis said she won’t go back until she gets a shot, but she’s hopeful life could look different next fall.

Having lost some relatives in the U.S. to COVID-19, Larkin is similarly keen to see the two of them vaccinated against the virus.

“The thought of risking my daughter or, you know, potentially having her get sick is terrifying to me,” Larkin said.

Without available vaccine data for kids under 16, some parents of younger children are hesitant to commit just yet.

Torontonians Barry Ayow and Gina Athanasiou aren’t sure whether they’ll want to vaccinate their two youngest kids, who are 12 and 14 years old, against COVID-19 right away.

“I’m willing to experiment on myself. I’m willing to be a guinea pig. But to volunteer my children to be guinea pigs, that’s a different thing, right?” said Ayow.

At the same time, a sense of duty to their older family members and neighbours is weighing on the couple.

“Will duty outweigh our obligation to our kids to make sure that they’re safe? I don’t know,” said Athanasiou, who has concerns about possible side effects of the vaccines on her kids.

She added, “Maybe we’ll feel more comfortable when we have the studies.”

Barry Ayow, right, and Gina Athanasiou say they’re willing to get vaccinated for COIVD-19, but they aren’t sure whether they want to vaccinate their two youngest children right away. (Ousama Farag/CBC)

Dr. MacDonald said parents can be reassured that a push to vaccinate children won’t be coming “out of nowhere.”

“This is going to be based on evidence,” she said.

In fact, according to MacDonald, information about the COVID-19 vaccines will be more robust than what was initially available for previous vaccines, such as polio.

When the time comes for children to get vaccinated, she said, “literally tens of millions of doses of these vaccines will have been used in the population. We’ve never had that kind of volume whenever we’ve used vaccines in children before when we were starting.”

In a show of hands, about half the students in the Grade 7 and 8 class at Charles Gordon Senior Public School said they themselves would take the vaccine based on what they currently know, with others mostly citing the need for more information on their own age group.

What’s clear from nearly all of them during their classroom discussion, though, is that the stress of the pandemic isn’t just affecting adults.

For seventh grader Isaiah Velez, keeping his family and friends safe is a personal priority, he said, as is putting an end to the pandemic. “I miss going out in public and meeting my friends — a lot,” he said.

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Canada neglecting duty to families of ISIS militants in detention camps, says Syrian Kurdish official

Kurdish authorities responsible for the prisons and detention camps holding ISIS militants and their family members in northern Syria have accused Canada of shirking its responsibility by failing to bring Canadian women and children home, despite offers of assistance.

“Let’s leave the ISIS militants aside,” said Abdulkarim Omar, the de facto foreign minister for the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), in an interview with CBC News on Monday.

“Canada firstly needs to take the responsibility toward the women and kids who haven’t been a part of committing crimes. But they’re ignoring it.”

The comments come just over a week after a former U.S. diplomat proved willing and able to do what the Canadian government apparently had not.

Peter Galbraith travelled to Iraq and then overland to northern Syria to collect the four-year-old daughter of a woman who wanted her child to have a better life with relatives in Canada than that on offer in a detention camp.

Omar said that less than a month ago, he flagged to Ottawa what he described as a humanitarian case involving another mother and two children suffering from undisclosed health issues.

“We told them their situation is not good, and they are aware of it,” he said. 

‘We don’t know why they stopped’

The Canadian government did not have an immediate comment.

Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that the federal government “facilitated the travel documents” for the four-year-old girl freed from the Islamic State detention camp, but did not organize her exit from the camp.

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair Blair has said the situation in Syria is “a fairly complex and often dangerous one and so the repatriation of any individual from that environment has been challenging.” But he said the federal government is willing to offer support where it can.

When asked about the situation on Tuesday morning, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said that Canada can “show compassion for the innocents while still taking a strong, zero-tolerance approach to people who take the freedom and opportunity that Canada represents and go to commit horrific terror acts abroad.”  

There are an estimated eight Canadian men accused of being ISIS fighters in Kurdish-run prisons and about 35 women and children in a detention camp called Al Roj, close to both the Turkish and Iraqi borders.

Abdulkarim Omar, the de facto foreign minister for the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), says Canada needs to take responsibility for the Canadian women and children who have been caught in Syrian detention camps for ISIS militants. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

“Canada was the first country who communicated with us, asking for their citizens,” said Omar. “At that time [in 2018], we were ready to hand them over ― the militants and the women.”

Omar said the administrative process was nearly done. “We even did the passport application forms, and suddenly [Canada] stopped [the process]. But we don’t know why they stopped.” 

This would coincide with details provided by one of the Canadian detainees at Al Roj camp in an interview with CBC last week. 

The woman, a mother of two who asked not to be identified for the sake of her children, said she was initially told she would be transferred to Canadian custody when she was caught trying to leave ISIS-held territory back in October 2017. 

She said she was put in prison for a few months before being transferred to Al Roj, where there was only one other Canadian at the time. She then said they were both sent back to the prison with the view of being transferred to Canadian custody.

“But then apparently everything went wrong and we stayed [in the prison] for one month until they brought us back here.”

Omar says the Syrian Kurds can’t handle the management of the large number of prisoners on their own. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

In recent weeks, AANES, along with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) ― who were key in defeating ISIS territorially in 2019 ― have begun discussing the need for a regional tribunal able to try and convict foreign nationals who fought for the Islamic State.

Officials with AANES and SDF insist that it’s not a new idea, but it does mark a subtle shift in position.

Up to this point, the Syrian Kurds had been far more vocal about the need for foreign nations to come and get their people and try them at home. 

Now, the pressure seems to be to put them on trial in Syria.

“That’s what we want,” said Omar. “I would not say an international court, but something similar to it, with the co-operation of countries whose fighters are in prison here.”

‘Justice needs to take place’

It’s not clear what brought about the change of heart, although one possibility is simply that it became clear no one was listening to Syrian Kurds’ pleas to come and collect their citizens. 

Another is that a quasi-international tribunal, however unlikely, would offer legitimacy to the Syrian Kurds and their autonomous administration in a country still in the midst of a civil war.

“This is the only solution, especially when the international community doesn’t want to take [the children] back,” said Omar, when asked about strategy. 

“What should be the alternative? Should we release them?  Justice needs to take place.”

The Al Roj detention camp is near the borders of both Iraq and Turkey. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

Omar says the Syrian Kurds can’t handle the management of the large number of prisoners on their own. 

They’re struggling in particular with policing the largest detention camp, known as Al Hol, where ISIS still manages to smuggle in weapons and influence. 

An estimated 60,000 people live in the camp, which comprises those displaced after the fall of the Islamic State and the families and dependents of the ISIS militants themselves.  

“We’re facing a huge problem with the kids in those camps,” said Omar.

“Those kids are victims and this is a moral case, and that’s why their countries need to do their duties towards them. If they grow up [in the camp], they will turn into terrorists.” 

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‘More pain’: Some Broncos families angry over request in court to delay lawsuit

A battle between lawsuits related to the Humboldt Broncos bus crash is to be heard in a Regina courtroom this week.

Eleven lawsuits were filed after the crash on April 6, 2018. Sixteen people died and 13 were injured when the driver of a semi-truck blew a stop sign and drove into the path of the junior hockey team’s bus near Tisdale, Sask.

Lawyers for a proposed class action waiting for certification plan to ask a judge Friday to delay another lawsuit filed by five of the victims’ families until that’s done.

The possible delay has some of the families frustrated.

“We want to put certain pieces of this behind us. When they get dragged out longer and longer, it just makes it harder and harder. It causes more pain,” said Chris Joseph, a former NHL player from St. Albert, Alta. His 20-year-old son, Jaxon, died in the crash.

The proposed class action so far includes the families of 24-year-old Dayna Brons, the team’s athletic therapist from Lake Lenore, Sask., who died in hospital after the crash, and injured goalie Jacob Wassermann, 21, from Humboldt, Sask. The suit names the Saskatchewan government, the inexperienced truck driver who caused the crash and the Calgary-based company that employed him.

Vancouver lawyer John Rice said the request for a stay, or delay, is about fairness.

“In situations where numerous claimants are harmed from the same event — and where the legal findings in one proceeding could impact all the others — the court needs to strike a balance between the competing interests of individual litigants to ensure that the most efficient and just process is adopted,” Rice said.

“In these awful circumstances, in this application, the court is being asked to exercise the ‘least-worst’ option, which is to press pause on the progress of one action until the application for certification is heard.”

Kevin Mellor of Regina, lawyer for the other lawsuit, said a delay would put his clients’ claim at risk. He represents the Joseph family as well as the families of Adam Herold, 16, of Monmartre, Sask.; Logan Hunter, 18, of St. Albert, Alta.; Jacob Leicht, 19, of Humboldt, Sask.; and assistant coach Mark Cross, 27, from Strasbourg, Sask. They all died from the crash.

A ‘pray for Humboldt’ jersey is draped at the site of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash. (Susan Ormiston/CBC)

That lawsuit, in addition to naming the Saskatchewan government, the driver and his employer, also lists the bus company as a defendant.

Mellor said Jaskirat Singh Sidhu was sentenced to eight years in prison for causing the crash, but could be deported to India before their lawsuit gets to trial.

“If the class action is going to delay … they’re going to miss out on material evidence because this guy will be deported,” Mellor said.

“We need to giddy-up and go.”

Co-counsel Sharon Fox said their clients shouldn’t be punished because they were first to file a lawsuit.

“We filed our claim in July 2018, three months after the crash happened,” Fox said.

“We have been at this for almost two years … They’re trying to hold us back, put us on the sidelines, so they can catch up. We’re saying that’s not fair and that’s going to impact our client’s ability to prove our case.”

Their clients also don’t want to put their healing on hold any longer, she said.

An affidavit from Herold’s father, Russ Herold, was filed in advance of Friday’s hearing.

“I feel I will suffer psychological harm if my lawsuit is delayed,” he says in the document.

“I want to advance my lawsuit to hold responsible those that should be held responsible for my son’s death.”

Lawyers for the Saskatchewan government recently argued in court that, because of the province’s no-fault insurance, it should be struck as a defendant from the class action. A judge has not yet ruled on that application.

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In Tehran, families of downed Flight PS752 demand arrest of Revolutionary Guard leader

Relatives of the victims of downed Flight PS752, which crashed in Iran last year, held a protest in Tehran over the weekend demanding justice for their loved ones and the arrest of the leader of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, which Iran’s leaders have admitted shot down the plane.

The demonstration came days after Iran’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammad Javad Zarif denied the existence of an audio recording, obtained by CBC, in which he is said to be discussing the possibility that the destruction of Flight PS752 was an intentional act.

In the recording, the individual, who was identified by sources as Zarif, is heard saying there are a “thousand possibilities” to explain the downing of the jet, including a deliberate attack involving two or three “infiltrators” — a scenario he said was “not at all unlikely.”

The individual in the recording also notes that the truth will never be revealed by the highest levels of Iran’s government and military. The day after the story aired, Zarif tweeted the audio isn’t real and insisted he’s always said there were a number of possibilities for the crash.

On Jan. 8, 2020, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps shot down Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 in the skies over Tehran with two surface-to-air missiles, killing all 176 people aboard, including 138 people with ties to Canada.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard is an elite wing of the country’s military and is overseen by the country’s supreme leader. It’s been designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S., Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

Following the crash, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said human error was to blame, saying the military mistook the jetliner for a hostile target in the aftermath of an American drone strike that killed a high-ranking Iranian military general in Iraq.

On Saturday, in a video filmed at the Tehran demonstration, a crash victim’s father is heard asking why Commander Gen. Amir-Ali Hajizadeh hasn’t been charged noting he is the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

Families demand answers

“Have you summoned Mr. Hajizadeh as a suspect of this crime?” the man asks, according to a video shared with CBC News. “Answer us. It’s a simple question. You owe the 70, 80 million Iranians an answer.”

At the demonstration, dozens of family members holding photos of loved ones also entered the military court building to question lead investigator Sadegh Arabzadeh and the country’s deputy military prosecutor. This building is where crimes pertaining to the military are privately heard rather than at a public court. 

WATCH | Secret recording says downed airliner may have been intentionally shot down:

CBC News has obtained a recording of a man sources have identified as Iran’s foreign minister acknowledging that the downing of Flight 752 could have been intentional. The Canadian government and security agencies are reviewing the recording. 2:49

Arabzadeh is heard responding on the videotape, saying “we can’t simply accuse someone. There is a procedure of investigation.”

Iran has said it charged six Iranians with offences in connection with the destruction of Flight PS752, but hasn’t revealed their names, the allegations against them, or any details about the charges they face.

Ukraine classifies criminal investigation as ‘intended murder’

In Ukraine, Deputy Foreign Minister Yevgeny Yenin said in an interview broadcast Sunday on Iran International, a private UK broadcaster, that his country still doesn’t know the identity of the six individuals charged. Yenin also confirmed Ukraine’s criminal case is being classified as an “intended murder.”

The airline that operated PS752 is based in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, courts in Iran have also sentenced at least 13 people to prison allegedly for protesting the downing of Flight PS752, according to Human Rights Watch. They include two students at the University of Tehran who posted online they were sentenced to prison terms for “propaganda against the state” and “assembly and collusion to disrupt national security,” according to the New York-based international human rights organization.

Hamed Esmaeilion, of Richmond Hill, Ont. lost his wife Parisa Eghbalian and nine-year-old daughter Reera on Flight PS752. (Submitted)

The audio recording obtained by CBC was said to be captured in the months after President Rouhani stated publicly that human error was to blame. CBC News listened to the audio recording and had three people translate it from Farsi to English to capture nuances in the language. 

Hamed Esmaeilion of Richmond Hill, Ont. lost his wife Parisa Eghbalian and nine-year-old daughter Reera on Flight PS752. He’s now the spokesperson for the association representing a group of victims’ families in Canada and shared the protest footage with CBC through a network of families in Tehran. 

WATCH | Iran disputes content of secret audio recording obtained by CBC News:

Iran was quick to push back at Canada after a CBC News exclusive revealed a secret recording of a man identified as Iran’s foreign minister contradicting his own government’s explanation for the downing of Flight 752, calling the reports incorrect and baseless. 2:03

In a statement, Esmaeilion said at one point during Saturday’s Tehran protest an ambulance was called because some family members were so upset they felt unwell and were taken to hospital. Security forces eventually told families to leave the premises and they dispersed, he said. 

Multiple countries, including Ukraine, have until the end of the month to review Iran’s final report on the safety investigation. It’s not clear when that document will be released publicly.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s special advisor to Flight PS752, Ralph Goodale, has raised concerns about Iran’s lack of details around its arrests and transparency around the investigation.

“This state of affairs raises obvious concerns about credibility, conflicts of interest, and a lack of transparency and accountability, especially in light of Iran’s admission that its own military—specifically the IRGC—fired the missiles that downed this innocent commercial airliner, which had been fully cleared for takeoff by Iran’s military and civilian authorities.” says a portion of Goodale’s report published in Dec. 2020. 

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Restrictions on care home visits traumatize families, caregivers

It’s a sunny fall day but there’s a chill in the air, so Laura Meffen grabs an extra layer before she and her son head to their van, smiling and balancing bags full of toys and snacks. They’re off to see Meffen’s 22-year-old daughter Emily, who lives in a care facility a few kilometres away.

The home recently allowed outdoor visits, for about an hour each time. Meffen chases away the thought of how quickly that time goes by.

“I try not to think of the ending,” Meffen says, her eyes watering. “I think of the joy, the laughter, the fun we have. I always make the visits fun for her. And we just try not to think of the end.”

Like many families and caregivers with family members in care settings, the pandemic has taken an emotional toll on Meffen. From full lockdowns to the more recent restricted visits, many like Meffen have spent the entire pandemic desperately trying to get closer to the ones they love.

  • WATCH | The feature about trauma caused by having family members in long-term care, Sunday Oct. 18 on The National at 9 p.m. ET on CBC News Network and 10 p.m. local time on your CBC television station. You can also catch The National online on CBC Gem.

Emily has lived at Participation House in Markham, Ont., for the past two years. Participation House is a care setting for adults with severe disabilities. Emily has a neuro-degenerative disease and requires round-the-clock care.

When the pandemic hit the home in April, Emily got infected and so did Meffen. They’ve recovered, although Meffen still battles fatigue and a cough.

Her bigger fight now is against the agonizing uncertainty of what comes next.

“We went through a lot with COVID, it was traumatic. It really was. So I understand not being able to go in, but I need to be with my daughter. I need to make sure she’s OK. I need to have her know that I’m there, that I haven’t abandoned her.”

Laura Meffen and her family are only allowed short outdoor visits with Emily at her care home. ‘It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, not being there with her and being able to comfort her,’ Meffen said. (Jared Thomas/CBC)

Emily squeals in delight as a staff member wheels her out to meet with her mother and brother under a gazebo on the home’s grounds. She has limited verbal skills, but there’s no mistaking her joy — and her confusion, too, as she reaches out for a hug and no one leans in. Meffen has to keep her distance.

And it’s tearing her apart.

“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, not being there with her and being able to comfort her like a mother can only comfort a daughter. It just, it devastates me.”

‘She needed love and attention’

For Marla DiGiacomo, the pandemic has been an exhausting battle. DiGiacomo helped organize one protest after another in front of Extendicare Guildwood, a long-term care facility in Toronto where her 86-year-old mother Helen, who has dementia, has lived for the past nine years.

DiGiacomo’s mother also got COVID-19 but had no symptoms, although she was weak.

Friends and family members of residents at Extendicare Guildwood Long-Term Care home in Toronto, where dozens of residents died as a result of COVID-19, hold a rally on June 12. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

DiGiacomo fought hard for the right to see her mother, and two months after the lockdown, she finally did. It was a window visit, and the sight of her mother devastated her.

“When we first saw her, she was in such terrible condition,” DiGiacomo says. “She had lost 30 pounds. She was unresponsive.”

DiGiacomo went back to the home the day after that first window visit during mealtime, and saw a staff member leave a tray of food at her mother’s bedside. Her mother struggled to get to it.

“I was outside the window and she was trying to get the food with her hands. That’s when I just lost it. I realized she hadn’t been fed — nobody was helping her, assisting her. She was incapable of feeding herself.”

DiGiacomo says she immediately started to advocate for better care, and to be allowed inside to be with her mother. She argued her mother needed not only nutrition, but was starving for affection too.

“I approached them and said look, my mother is lacking human contact. She needs affection, attention, and touch. That’s what she needed as much as food. She needed love and attention.”

Marla DiGiacomo, right, had to fight hard to see her mother Helen in a long-term care home during the COVID-19 lockdown. (Marla DiGiacomo)

It took weeks of relentless pressure before DiGiacomo was finally allowed inside in August.

Since then, Ontario has issued a directive clarifying that essential visitors include caregivers. But directives can change, and DiGiacomo is afraid of being shut out again.

The impact on her mental health, she says, has been enormous. She says she cries often, can’t sleep and feels a constant sense of dread. There’s a raw agony in her voice, even now.

“It’s taken a large toll. I’ve aged, you know? And I’m scared. I’m scared that she’ll get it again. I’m scared of what will happen there.”

Ensuring caregiver rights

The trauma caregivers have experienced and the toll taken on them has been eclipsed by the brunt of illness and deaths in long-term care settings since the pandemic, but that doesn’t make it any less concerning.

“Over my 10 years of studying caregiving, I’ve never seen anything like this kind of burden or trauma placed on caregivers,” says Vivian Stamatopoulos, an associate teaching professor at Ontario Tech University who specializes in family caregiving.

“It’s tantamount to a form of post-traumatic stress caused from forced helplessness.”

Stamatopoulos is an outspoken critic of systemic failings in long-term care, especially chronic staff shortages. She says prior to the pandemic, families filled gaps in care, often visiting during mealtimes to make sure their loved ones were eating and to make sure they were safe. It’s why Stamatopoulos says it was so hard for them to be forced out by COVID-19.

“That kind of trauma — of knowing that you can help, and you’re available to help and you want to help, and you had been helping for God knows how long before the pandemic struck, however long that loved one was in care. That is the story that really hasn’t been out there, and which should get out there, because it’s a very serious level of trauma.”

Vivian Stamatopoulos, an associate teaching professor at Ontario Tech University who specializes in family caregiving, says the inability of families to see their loved ones in care homes is, ‘tantamount to a form of post-traumatic stress caused from forced helplessness.’ (Jared Thomas/CBC)

Restrictions in most care settings have eased since the initial pandemic lockdown, but policies vary from home to home and the fear is that the access won’t last.

Stamatopoulos’s outspokenness has turned her into an accidental advocate, she says. Dozens of families have reached out to her on Twitter, and she’s supporting them as they pressure the Ontario government to pass legislation that would guarantee caregivers access at all times. Bill 203, the More Than a Visitor Act, has been referred to the Ontario Standing Committee on Social Policy.

Families across the country are rallying for similar laws.

“We really need to get ahead of this and have this in law,” says Stamatopoulos. “Ontario right now is so close to setting the precedent. I think it will really push the needle forward in terms of caregiver rights.”

A law would clear the uncertainty, and give caregivers the peace of mind of knowing what to expect even as pandemic conditions change.

Back in Markham, Laura Meffen’s visit with her daughter Emily is winding down. She packs away the toys she brought with her and tries to sound cheery as Emily grows quiet, as she does at the end of every visit. Emily’s home hasn’t guaranteed indoor visits when it gets too cold to meet outside. With COVID-19 cases on the rise again, Meffen is afraid of more restrictions. Afraid every visit could be the last one for some time.

The hardest part for Meffen is when Emily wants to know when her mother will come back.

“And I can’t tell her. I don’t know when I will be able to see her again. I don’t know when I’m going to be able to give her a hug again, and be in the same room with her, and be able to take her home. And that is heartbreaking. It’s heart wrenching.”

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Ontario faces ‘runaway train’ of COVID-19 cases if families don’t scrap Thanksgiving gatherings, doctor warns

Ontario could be “on the brink of disaster,” a Toronto epidemiologist said Wednesday, as officials continued to urge families to scrap Thanksgiving gatherings amid soaring COVID-19 cases.

This week, the province — and public health officials in the hot zones of Toronto and Ottawa — stressed the safest way to celebrate is with only members of your own household.

Should Ontarians not heed those warnings, some weekend gatherings could become superspreading events once infected attendees return to their homes, schools and workplaces, said Dr. Jeff Kwong, a professor of family medicine and public health at the University of Toronto.

“It’s not just about this one transmission event; it’s the onward transmission,” he said. “Ten people gathering, say four or five get infected, then they go on to their social circles and infect another five or 10, and so on.”

The result could be like a “runaway train” given the millions of residents potentially congregating indoors with extended family members from different households, he said.

Dr. Jeff Kwong, a professor of family medicine and public health at the University of Toronto, says Thanksgiving celebrations could become COVID-19 “super-spreading” events. (CBC)

Ontario is experiencing a seven-day average of more than 600 cases per day, up sharply from a seven-day average of fewer than 100 cases per day at the start of August.

The province has also been struggling to tackle high demand for testing and an existing backlog of more than 55,000 tests. Most contact tracing efforts in Toronto have been suspended because of the dramatic rise in infections.

Against that backdrop, Ontario officials are now encouraging household-only celebrations for Thanksgiving while saying people who live alone can pair up with one other household.

Activities now ‘much higher risk’

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Premier Doug Ford said residents let their guard down on previous holidays, such as Labour Day weekend, which led to increased cases.

But there are several stark differences between those earlier festivities and Thanksgiving, Kwong said. 

Unlike the long weekend holidays of spring and summer, Thanksgiving is traditionally celebrated indoors given the colder weather. Also, it often marks the first time college and university students return home from campus, and it now falls against a backdrop of already-rising cases.

“Things are a little bit out of control already,” he said. “It’s not like cases are going down steadily like they were earlier in the summer.”

Dr. Irfan Dhalla, vice-president of physician quality at Unity Health, which includes St. Michael’s and St. Joseph’s hospitals in Toronto, agreed the climate has changed.

“The same activities that we could do with relatively low risk at 50-70 cases per day are now much higher risk at 500-700 cases per day,” he said.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said residents let their guard down on previous holidays, such as Labour Day weekend, which led to increased cases. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

One park gathering, 27 cases

According to Dr. Vera Etches, medical officer of health for Ottawa, even outdoor dinners aren’t advised for Thanksgiving, given the risks tied to close contact in settings like a park.

One outdoor gathering in that city already wound up becoming a superspreading event, she said.

It was a barbecue in a park, Etches revealed last month, with 40 attendees, including two who went on to develop COVID-19 symptoms. Those infections led to outbreaks in their households, a workplace and a daycare — causing dozens of exposures and at least 27 cases. 

The messaging throughout the pandemic has long been “outdoors is better than indoors,” said University of Toronto epidemiologist Ashleigh Tuite, but she stressed that only goes so far.

“I think the concern is still, you’re eating a meal together, it’s hard to keep a distance,” she explained. “You’re sharing food. You’re passing dishes.”

Thanksgiving a ‘potent accelerator’ 

Experts say there are ways to avoid those risks while still celebrating the spirit of the occasion. 

Tuite said a family hike, if physical distancing is maintained, is one option. Kwong said he’s carving up a turkey, offering curbside pickup for family and gathering online for the meal. 

The challenge, both agree, is people trying to gather together like usual and slipping up once food and drinks start flowing.

With that in mind, Kwong issued a public plea for Ontarians, and particularly those in Toronto, Ottawa and Peel region, to cancel any planned gatherings.

“We are on the brink of disaster,” he said in a tweet on Wednesday.

WATCH | Canadians confused by advice on Thanksgiving celebrations 

Canadians are trying to decipher confusing advice from public health officials about what kind of gathering, if any, is appropriate and safe for Thanksgiving. 1:57

Toronto warns of spring peak

In Toronto, where medical officer of health Dr. Eileen de Villa is also calling on residents to celebrate Thanksgiving with only their own household, there’s growing concern about rising case counts beyond just the holiday.

The city’s latest modelling shows without further public health interventions — like month-long restaurant and gym closures de Villa is requesting from the province — the spread of COVID-19 throughout October could exceed the April peak. 

“If the virus is left unchecked, heading into November, things can get much worse,” she said. “Infections continue to rise week over week, peaking between early March and early May 2021.”

When asked when the city will know if Thanksgiving gatherings caused even more infections, de Villa’s answer was blunt: “I hope we don’t get there.”

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‘It matters to families’: Canada does not keep track of probable cases of COVID-19

This is an excerpt from Second Opinion, a weekly roundup of eclectic and under-the-radar health and medical science news emailed to subscribers every Saturday morning. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do that by clicking here.

When Vicente Perez was admitted to a Toronto hospital for suspected COVID-19 on May 2, the first question he asked his family was about Florencia, his wife of 70 years.

“Where is she? I don’t know how to call her,” his granddaughter, Cindy Perez, remembers him saying over the phone. “She doesn’t know where I am.”

His family didn’t have the heart to tell him that she had died just hours before.

Florencia and Vicente lived at home in Toronto with their adult son, who had fallen ill just two weeks earlier from what their family doctor thought was a sinus infection.

The couple in their 80s took care of their son, who had not been instructed to self-quarantine, bringing him food and tea as his condition failed to improve. 

But when Florencia came down with a sore throat on April 28, they worried it could be COVID-19.

Her symptoms quickly worsened, and four days later she died in bed next to Vicente.

“It all happened just very quick,” Cindy said. “It went from nothing to all of a sudden symptoms, and she died that Saturday morning.” 

Vicente was extremely disoriented when paramedics arrived, and they quickly determined his oxygen levels were low.

He was immediately taken to Humber River Hospital in Toronto, where he tested positive for COVID-19 that night. 

“They admitted him into the hospital that very day,” Cindy said. “And what was really, really sad is that because he was already very disoriented, he never knew that my grandma passed.” 

Vicente had bone marrow cancer and Parkinson’s disease, and his condition worsened over the following weeks. 

He died alone in hospital on May 21. 

After seven decades together, Vicente and Florencia passed away just weeks apart. 

The stark difference between their deaths is Vicente tested positive for COVID-19 before he died and so was included in Canada’s national case count. But Florencia wasn’t tested, so her death wasn’t reflected. 

Canada only records lab-confirmed cases nationally

Canada does not record probable COVID-19 cases and deaths across the country despite international guidelines to do so, and experts say we may never know how many cases have been missed.

The World Health Organization released a set of guidelines in April calling on countries to track both confirmed and suspected cases of COVID-19 as a way to monitor the total impact of the disease worldwide.

“The WHO has issued very clear guidelines that you don’t need a test to be able to diagnose a COVID death,” said Dr. Prabhat Jha, professor of epidemiology at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto.

“The bad news is that Canada is too slow in reporting that second type of death.”

Both Ontario and Quebec said in statements to CBC News that the case numbers they release information on are based entirely on lab-confirmed tests.  (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Unlike Canada, countries like New Zealand, Portugal and the U.K. have routinely released information on these probable cases throughout the pandemic. 

A spokesperson for the U.K.’s Office for National Statistics told CBC News it records a doctor’s declaration of COVID-19 on a patient’s death certificate, even when a test isn’t available, and that the data could be useful for future research. 

But most Canadian provinces haven’t publicly released data on these probable COVID-19 deaths and cases, even separately from the confirmed ones, instead focusing solely on people with positive test results.

A spokesperson for the Public Health Agency of Canada said in a statement to CBC that without a positive test for COVID-19, a probable case does not meet its national surveillance reporting criteria. 

That means if someone dies of COVID-19 before testing positive, even when it’s marked as the cause of death on their death certificate, that case isn’t necessarily reflected anywhere in our national numbers. 

And that’s exactly what happened to Florencia Perez. 

B.C. tracks probable COVID-19 cases, deaths

Ultimately, it’s up to the provinces and territories to decide if they should report those numbers publicly — and at least one does. 

British Columbia not only counts probable COVID-19 cases and deaths, but it conducts antibody and post-mortem testing to find those who may have been missed. 

“This is something that we felt was important early on to try and get a good sense of the overall impact and who’s been impacted,” B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said in an interview with CBC. 

“That helps us understand deaths in the community that we might not have recognized.” 

The BC Centre for Disease Control has made data on probable cases public, while the BC Coroners Service said it has so far identified five additional cases of COVID-19 from people who had been tested after their deaths.

Henry said because there is a lag in processing the death certificate data, it can take several months before those cases can be found. 

“That’s our system, unfortunately,” she said. “It’s unfortunately one of those things that we can only look at retrospectively, but we do want to be able to determine the overall impact of COVID on the province.”

WATCH | Dr. Bonnie Henry shares her views on a grim milestone:

‘Each of those people who have been ill reflect the pain on their entire family, their community,’ says B.C.’s provincial health officer. 1:33

Henry said identifying these missing cases may take more time, but it’s important to provide families who have lost loved ones to COVID-19 with an added layer of closure.

“The impact on our seniors and elders has been so profound — particularly people in long-term care,” she said. 

“Finding that balance of trying to protect that community but also give people who are in the important final stages of their life the respect and the care that they need — that’s the most challenging part of this whole outbreak for sure.” 

Hardest-hit provinces release no data

But in Quebec and Ontario, Canada’s two hardest-hit provinces, this type of surveillance isn’t being publicly recorded. 

Both Public Health Ontario and the Quebec Ministry of Health and Social Services said in statements to CBC that the case numbers they release are based entirely on lab-confirmed tests. 

Dr. Michael Gardam, an infectious disease specialist and chief of staff at Humber River Hospital, who is a veteran of the SARS and H1N1 outbreaks, said he doesn’t think that approach goes far enough.

“We clearly know there were more cases. This is an underestimate,” he said. 

“I just in general would like more transparency from the numbers, more transparency from public health — just put all the information out there.” 

Gardam said the daily lab-confirmed case numbers should have a “big asterisk” beside them that indicates “we know there are more cases than that.” 

Dr. Bonnie Henry said identifying missing cases may take more time, but it’s important to provide families who have lost loved ones to COVID-19 with an added layer of closure. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Dr. Michael Warner, medical director of critical care at Michael Garron Hospital in Toronto, has personally diagnosed patients with probable COVID-19 despite negative test results or those that were unable to get tested before dying. 

“Unfortunately, many cases I think have already been lost because it was at the beginning of the pandemic when we lost so many patients in long-term care homes, and it’s unclear whether we can go back,” he said.

“It matters to families because they want to know how or why their loved one passed away, and I think we owe it to them.”

Dr. Allison McGeer, an infectious diseases specialist at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital who worked on the front lines of the SARS epidemic in 2003, said one reason the data isn’t recorded is because officials feel the numbers could be taken the wrong way. 

“The one thing that public-health people don’t want to do is be seen to be inflating the number of cases,” she said. 

“They tend to be conservative because it’s always tempting to accuse them afterwards of inflating numbers and making it look worse.” 

Slow reporting systems partially to blame

Tracking these cases through death certificates is also more work for an already slow reporting system, especially in Ontario, which relies on outdated technology like fax machines and the manual reporting of cases. 

In response to ongoing criticism, the province announced Thursday it would finally be overhauling its antiquated system of reporting diseases. 

But while Ontario may soon be able to track confirmed cases faster, there appears to be no plan for the province or other parts of the country to release data on probable cases and deaths any time soon.

For Cindy Perez, that adds more pain to an already painful situation. 

“The fact that she’s not accounted for in the numbers, it’s unfair because she did suffer from the disease,” Cindy said, referring to her grandmother. 

“People should know that there have been so many people that have gone unaccounted for that have been victims to this.”

To read the entire Second Opinion newsletter every Saturday morning, subscribe below or by clicking here.

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Nursing home told families hospital wouldn’t accept sick residents during pandemic. That wasn’t true

The long-term care home where more people have died during the coronavirus pandemic than anywhere else in Ontario is facing new scrutiny.

Families who asked that their loved ones be transferred to hospital from Orchard Villa Retirement Community in Pickering, east of Toronto, say they were told hospitals were closed to residents of long-term care homes and that COVID-positive residents would need to remain — and possibly die — in the home.

But an investigation by CBC’s Marketplace and The National reveals that was never the case.

More than a month into the long-term care lockdown across Ontario, Cathy Parkes learned COVID-19 had reached her father’s long-term care home.

In a call with Paul Parkes soon after the outbreak was announced, his voice was weak, making her think he was already in the grips of the virus.

“My brother managed to reach him briefly on Easter Sunday and he said he couldn’t speak at all,” said Parkes. 

Paul Parkes, seen here with daughter Cathy Parkes, died of COVID-19 on April 15, 2020. He was 86 years old, and one of at least 78 residents of Orchard Villa Retirement Community who have lost their lives because of the virus. (Submitted by Cathy Parkes)

She said she spent the day trying to reach someone at the home, finally getting hold of a nurse at 9:15 p.m. He told her he couldn’t swab her father until he had a fever. But overnight, her father’s temperature began to rise. 

The next day, Parkes went to Orchard Villa and stood outside her father’s window, looking in. She could see that her dad was in bad shape. She asked that the 86-year-old be moved to hospital.

‘He was not OK’

“I knew as soon as I saw him that he was not OK,” she said. “I kept saying, Dad, turn your head and look at me. He couldn’t do it.”

She got hold of the nursing staff by the evening and asked that he be moved to hospital.

But the charting report from that night confirms that the staff member advised against it. Parkes said staff assured her that her dad was doing better and had eaten most of his lunch that day.

“I thought that’s not possible,” said Parkes. “I was there at 12:05 at lunchtime and he was comatose.”

CBC’s The National and Marketplace examined the outbreak at Orchard Villa through a whistleblower’s account on the front lines and extensive interviews with family members of residents. They found that families were given false information and led to believe that the home had a handle of the situation when it didn’t.

Exclusive hidden camera footage shows that even two years ago, the home was underprepared for an emergency of this scale, and an analysis of five years of inspection reports paints a picture of a home with well-known problems that may have set the home up for failure.

‘He was not being fed’

Parkes, whose father died of COVID-19 at the home on April 15, is not the only one who says she was discouraged from seeking hospital intervention on behalf of their loved one at Orchard Villa. 

Raquel John-Matuzewiski said she was told the same thing.

WATCH | A daughter ignored the advice from a nursing home and believes she saved her dad’s life:

Raquel John-Matuzewiski was told if her COVID-19 positive father had worsening symptoms, he would go into palliative care at the home because the hospital was not accepting patients from care homes. CBC learns that wasn’t true. 2:33

Two days after the death of Parkes’s father, John-Matuzewiski’s father, Chester John, tested positive for COVID-19. 

A week later, when John-Matuzewiski saw that her father, 79, wasn’t doing well, she also asked about having him transferred to hospital. She said she was told that if his symptoms worsened, her father would start palliative care in the home because the hospital was not accepting patients from long-term care. 

But when a FaceTime call revealed a sharp decline for her father in just 24 hours, John-Matuzewiski said she called the nursing station and insisted he be transported to hospital immediately. The home obliged.

Malnourished and dehydrated

“I no longer felt that … my dad’s wellbeing and safety could be entrusted to them,” John-Matuzewiski said. 

But when John-Matuzewiski arrived at hospital, she learned her father’s poor condition wasn’t just because of COVID-19. He was also suffering from malnourishment and dehydration.

“It told me, obviously, that he was not being fed or being nourished or hydrated the way they had told me he had been for weeks,” she said.

After John was put on an IV and a feeding tube, he recovered and is in stable condition at Lakeridge Health Ajax Pickering Hospital.

Chester John, 79, seen here with daughter Raquel John-Matuzewiski, was treated for malnutrition and dehydration as well as COVID-19 when he was transferred to the hospital from Orchard Villa nursing home. He is now COVID-free and in stable condition. (Submitted by Raquel John-Matuzewiski)

Lakeridge Health, the health authority that runs the hospital, told CBC in a statement that there was never any period of time that it was not accepting long-term care patients. 

Citing “privacy reasons,” Orchard Villa’s executive director, Jason Gay, wouldn’t comment on why families were advised against sending loved ones to hospital. 

“We cannot comment on individual resident matters for privacy reasons so unfortunately, we cannot respond to most of your inquiries,” Gay said in a statement. “Our team at Orchard Villa reached out to health partners and the government early and often and all assistance provided was welcomed.”

‘They’re lying to you’

Parkes said the night she tried to send her father to the hospital, the nursing staff told her that everyone who had tried to go to hospital was rejected. Either the paramedics wouldn’t take them or they would arrive at the hospital and be sent back. 

But she had contacted the hospital earlier and had been told they would take them.  

Yet Parkes said the nursing staff still insisted the hospital was mistaken. “[They told me] ‘No, they won’t. They’re lying to you.’ “

Parkes decided to sleep on it and ask again the next day. But by then, it was too late. Her father had died.

“We weren’t given the chance for him to survive,” she said. “I think if my dad had been in the hospital, he might have had a chance.

“I think everything in this situation was done wrong — everything that could be done wrong was done wrong.”

WATCH | Orchard Villa told families a nearby hospital wouldn’t accept their parents during the pandemic:

Families at Ontario’s worst-hit nursing home say they feel the home misled them about COVID-19 care options. David Common investigates whether Orchard Villa staff discouraged families from sending their loved ones to the hospital and refused outside help when it was offered as the outbreak ramped up in the home. 8:42

Families of residents at Orchard Villa are left with many questions: Why were they discouraged from calling an ambulance? Why didn’t the home seek help earlier? Did management really think they had things under control? 

If they did, they shouldn’t have, according to a care worker whom CBC has agreed not to name for fear he may lose his job. 

“I would start my … evening shift from three to 11 and I’d find the breakfast and lunch trays sitting in front of the patients,” said the worker. 

He said staff were only helping to feed patients who had required help feeding before the pandemic hit. The rest were fending for themselves.

Whistleblower haunted by what he saw

“The patients who were sick with COVID, they had no energy … the food would be sitting there right in front of them.”

He said it was “disheartening” to see because the residents were hungry, but they didn’t have the strength to pick up a fork and feed themselves.

“Imagine what it’s like … you put food in front [of them] and they can smell it, they can see it, but they can’t have it,” he said. “Not only were they hungry, it’s a carrot dangling in front of their face, you know?”

The worker is no longer working in the home, but the experience still haunts him.

“Now that it’s over and I’ve been out of it for a while, I’m actually having PTSD kind of symptoms,” he said.

A man plays bagpipes at a vigil Monday night for the residents that died at Orchard Villa Retirement Community. The long-term care home has the highest COVID-19 death count of any care facility in Ontario. Seventy-one died in the long-term care section of the facility, and seven more died in the retirement home section. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

The worker said he reached out to the Ontario Ministry of Health, and the prime minister’s office as well, urging them to talk to the front-line workers about what’s going on in these homes and how to fix it.

But according to Orchard Villa’s inspection reports from 2015 through 2019, the provincial government had already been alerted to the fact that the home was not prepared to deal with what reports call “community disasters.”

For every year that there is a retirement home inspection report posted on the Retirement Homes Regulatory Authority website, there is a violation noted for Orchard Villa’s emergency planning.

“A review of the emergency kit revealed that the only resources, supplies and equipment vital for emergency response set aside were three flashlights,” said an inspection report from 2015.

The next year, according to a report, the home still didn’t have a fulsome emergency plan, and there was “no evidence” of procedures for dealing with a community disaster or emergency evacuation. 

A followup report later that year found no violations, but another emergency response plan violation was recorded in the next report in 2018. Inspections from 2017 and 2019 were either not conducted or their reports weren’t posted on the RHRA’s website.

No plan for community disaster in 2017

Marketplace visited Orchard Villa in 2017 when investigating abuse in long-term care homes. At the time, the home was in the top 20 homes in Ontario for the worst records of reported incidents of staff-to-resident abuse.

When the undercover journalist asked about the inspection reports posted on the wall, an administrator said it had recently been written up for not having a plan to deal with a community disaster.

“The licensee provided an emergency plan which did not contain community disasters,” she read with a laugh. “So we took corrective action to complete. 

“Quite often they can usually find something,” she said.

Participants react during the vigil for COVID-19 victims at the Orchard Villa long-term care home in Pickering, Ont., on Monday. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

When the journalist visited the long-term care side of the home, staff appeared to violate their own rules about infection control.

“We’re not allowed to give tours during an outbreak,” said the staff member. “I’ll give you a quick glance.”

The journalist wandered the halls for 30 minutes without being made aware there was an outbreak before she was offered a tour. 

Other reports in the years leading up to the pandemic from both the retirement and long-term care regulatory authorities might have tipped off the provincial Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care that this home might struggle in a pandemic. 

They reveal that staff weren’t trained in infection control, that there were multiple incidents of neglect and there was chronic understaffing, including 14 shifts within a span of five months where there were no registered nurses on duty.

Residents lying on bare mattresses

Despite these reported incidents, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he was shocked by a report released a month after members of the Canadian Armed Forces were ordered into five Ontario long-term care homes, including Orchard Villa, to help facilities that were struggling.  

The report confirmed that a hydration schedule was not being adhered to and that residents were lying on bare mattresses, left in soiled diapers in bed and being fed while lying in bed, which, according to the report, “appeared to have contributed” to the choking death of a resident.

“The people that were really sick were just dehydrated, I’m not convinced that COVID killed a lot of people,” said the health worker. “And the reason I know that is because once the military started feeding them and making sure they’re getting fluids, people were rebounding faster.”

The government has since assigned Lakeridge Health to take over management of the home and appointed other health authorities and hospitals to manage six others in Ontario.

‘She was so dehydrated’

As shocked as the premier might be by the military report, many of the findings were predictable for family members with loved ones who lived at Orchard Villa.

Marie Tripp said she noticed issues right away when her mom, Mary Walsh, was admitted to Orchard Villa in April 2019. That’s why she was there every day to take care of her mom long before the COVID-19 lockdown locked her out.

“I continuously was asking for doctor’s appointments for mom, for followups…. Something as simple as getting her hair done wasn’t even done for two months,” she said. “I’d asked the same nurse over and over again all these questions [and she said] ‘I’ll get to it, I’ll get to it’ and it got to the point that nobody was getting to anything.”

Mary Walsh died of COVID-19 on April 20 at the age of 89. She had lived at Orchard Villa for one year. (Submitted by Marie Tripp)

Tripp said after her mom wasn’t given pain medication for three days following skin cancer surgery, she decided to install a camera in her room to monitor her care in the hours that she couldn’t be there with her.

With the camera on, Tripp developed serious questions over how the home was handling the COVID-19 situation. When she was watching the video feed, she noticed her mom’s breathing was shallow and laboured. She called the home and had her put on oxygen immediately. In another instance, she saw Walsh’s food and water left out of her reach. Tripp said calls to the home often went unanswered for hours.

‘Just trying to get help’

Tripp and her daughters went to visit her mom at the window of the home and saw that she was malnourished.

“My mom was so dehydrated, she had the call button in her hand and she was trying to drink from the call bell,” she said.  

“I knew she was dying and I knew they wouldn’t let me in till the last hours,” she said “The only thing we could do was bang on that window — I was afraid my girls were going to break it — just trying to get help for Mom.”

Walsh died on April 20 at the age of 89.

WATCH | A daughter talks about why she monitored her mother’s care through a camera:

Marie Tripp says she witnessed her COVID-19 positive mother desperate for water and in urgent need of oxygen before mother’s ultimate death in the home. 4:24

Ralf Leswal said he was also in the home every day for years before COVID because he didn’t trust that his wife, Karen Leswal, would be fed if he wasn’t. 

Karen Leswal had been living at Orchard Villa for 15 years before she caught COVID-19. She had Huntington’s disease and needed a lot of care, which her husband felt he needed to bolster.

Leswal would visit the home every night to feed his wife dinner. He said it would take an hour to feed her and make sure she was hydrated.

“Nobody under normal conditions has that time to give to a resident.”

Leswal said the home “never had enough staffing,” a sentiment shared by inspectors who documented short-staffing issues in reports from 2016, 2017 and 2018.  

‘To the worker, it’s all about time’

He said the home wasn’t meeting the care needs of residents even before the pandemic.

“I cleaned my wife’s room personally because the standard of housekeeping was ridiculous,” said Leswal.

“To the worker, it’s all about time. If you spend 10 minutes on one resident, that means you’ve got to spend less on the next resident, right?” he said. “They’re not even paying attention sometimes to the resident they’re working with because they’re thinking, ‘Oh, I got to be here, I got to be here, I got to be here.’ ” 

Karen Leswal lived at Orchard Villa for 15 years before the COVID-19 lockdown. Her husband, Ralf, stayed in the home with her for the last four days of her life, until she died on April 30. (Submitted by Ralf Leswal)

Leswal was shut out of the home for 43 days before he got a call on April 27 saying his wife was palliative and that he should come to say his goodbyes. She died on April 30 at the age of 69.

“I really don’t know whether she died from COVID or whether she died of a combination of being malnourished, mistreated,” he said. “I have no idea.

“I knew my wife would some day pass,” he said. “But … she didn’t die on her terms.”

Orchard Villa wouldn’t comment on the death for “privacy reasons.”

After eight weeks of intervention from Lakeridge Health, and seven weeks of help from the army, Orchard Villa is now COVID-free.

But with a 78-person death toll, families are left wondering how many might have been saved had the home been adequately prepared or sought intervention sooner. 

For her part, John-Matuzewiski won’t be taking her father back to Orchard Villa after he’s discharged from hospital.

“I told them that the day he was admitted [to hospital],” she said. “The trust has been broken.”

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Crippled by COVID-19, Canada’s youth sports sector requires flexibility for families, businesses

Scott Oakman knows that whenever Canada emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, his sport and others will be confronted with a new economic reality.

The Executive Director of the Greater Toronto Hockey League, Canada’s largest and most powerful minor hockey league, says it can no longer pay lip service when it comes to actually making hockey more affordable. Oakman and other industry leaders are acutely aware that many families’ sports budgets are more limited than ever.

“We were able to get by without doing much about it in the past. Now we have to do something about it,” Oakman told CBC Sports. “There is a greater degree of motivation to make sure that we can make hockey available to all the families that are going to need it even more.”

Like most businesses in this country, Canada’s billion dollar youth sports industry has been crippled by COVID-19. Thousands of leagues have been sidelined. So, too, have the wide array of businesses that support and supplement young athletes.

Already, many baseball and soccer leagues across Canada have cancelled their seasons. Countless tournaments, the highlight of most seasons, have also been wiped off the schedule.

While organizations would usually roll over registration fees as a credit for next year, many have moved quickly to put money back in the hands of parents.

On the hockey side, closed rinks meant many organizations had their playoffs cut short. Even though there is no action on the ice, most clubs and associations are in the midst of registering players for next season.

The Leaside Hockey Association in Toronto is home to more than a thousand players and offers programs from learn-to-play to more competitive teams. It has decided to delay registration for now and will offer parents different ways to pay for next season.

“There’s so much uncertainty right now, we didn’t think it was the right time to be taking money from families,” Leaside’s president Susan Irving told CBC Sports. “There are a lot of people that are going to be unemployed, especially given we’re going into a recession and we want to do everything we can to make sure that we get all players back on the ice.”

Susan Irving, president of the Leaside Hockey Association, is considering various options to reduce spending for families with tight sports budgets, including limited tournament travelling. (Michael Drapack/CBC)

Irving says it’s too early to know how the country’s battered economy will affect the number of families registering their children to play hockey.

She points out that for Leaside and most organizations across the country, the cost of ice time eats much of the budget but says they are working hard to find savings elsewhere.

“We do have paid coaches for a lot of our teams for skills [development]. So that’s an area that you could possibly cut back,” Irving says. “But I’m hoping that’s not where we cut back because that’s where the kids get development and just a different voice.”

Irving says savings can also be found by limiting travel and reducing tournament participation.

“It’s the tournaments that then turn into hotel bills that also turn into food bills. So you know there’s a lot of leeway in that area that you can kind of cut back as well.”

Irving says when this all over it’s imperative that no family is excluded because their financial situation has changed.

“We have player assistance programs already and we’re now looking at whether we need to increase that. We will do whatever we can because at the end of the day it’s important for that player to be on the ice.”

The GTHL has recently formed a working group that Oakman says will offer parents and struggling clubs some financial relief.

“Everything is on the table right now to find tangible changes that we can make to save money,” he says. “It’s going to force us, our organizations and our teams and everybody involved in the game to think very differently than … the traditional game has been offered.”

Scott Oakman, executive director of the Greater Toronto Hockey League, says his organization has created a working group aimed at providing financial relief for parents and struggling clubs. (Turgut Yeter/CBC)

Oakman says a number of things are being explored but initially the league is looking at things like younger teams sharing practice ice. It’s also looking at having all teams possibly playing fewer games.

He says there are some quick fixes as well like the extra swag teams purchase every year.

“Do players need the track suits, the new hockey pants, new jerseys, new hockey bags every season?” Oakman asks.

‘Critical point’ for businesses

It’s not just leagues, clubs and associations who are facing financial pressures and uncertainty.

For example, take Baseline Sports in Toronto. It would usually be a hive of activity this time of year — alive with the sound of bats and balls. Usually about a thousand players a week from dozens of teams use the space to sharpen their skills. Instead the 10-thousand square foot facility is eerily quiet. Like everyone these days, owner Raf Choudhury has tried to stay connected to players and coaches.

“Zoom lessons is good for the spirit and soul but it doesn’t really pay the rent,” Choudhury says. “Getting back up and running is going to be critical to us in the next two months. Once we get to July, we’re going have to make some hard decisions about whether to shut down.

“It will be a critical point for us, for sure.”

Raf Choudhury, owner of Baseline Sports in Toronto, faces the reality of potentially shutting down his youth sports development business if virus-related closures continue into July. (Michael Drapack/CBC)

Down the highway in London, Ont., former Major League Baseball player Adam Stern is facing similar concerns. He runs an even larger facility and this would usually be his busiest and most profitable time of year.

“There are ebbs and flows of every business. But I think this is just a stark contrast of basically nothing, you have nothing, you don’t have any revenue coming in,” Stern told CBC Sports.

Stern continues to pay rent even though the 45-thousand square foot facility is dormant.

“That’s what I’ve chosen to do,” Stern says. “When your door is closed I don’t know how much longer you can do it that way when you’re not bringing in anything and everything goes out the door.”

Youth sports turns to federal aid

In the United States, the youth sports sector has tried to quantify the impact COVID-19 has had on the industry.

According to a poll conducted by the Aspen Institute Project Play Initiative, nearly 60 per cent of local sports leaders said their organizations will project to lose at least 50 per cent of their revenue over the next year due to COVID-19. Earlier this month, a coalition of more than 500 leagues and affected businesses asked Congress for an $ 8.5 billion US economic stabilization fund for youth sports providers and the formation of a youth sports COVID-19 Task Force.

In Canada, money is already flowing. Last week, the federal government earmarked more than $ 30 million dollars that should soon trickle down to local leagues and businesses through provincial sport organizations.

There are many businesses like Stern and Choudhury’s and entrepreneurs — the power skating and pitching coaches — whose livelihoods depend on youth sports and parents willing to spend extra money to bolster their child’s skills.

It’s unclear how these businesses will emerge from all of this.

“It isn’t a necessity, it’s more, you know, bred from working towards goals and long term development,” Stern says. “So you hope that that confidence comes back in the parents and the players once the initial impact subsides.”

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Why some nursing homes won’t let families install ‘granny cams’ to check on their loved ones

When Robin Nelson found out she could no longer visit her mother at her long-term care facility because of COVID-19, her immediate worry wasn’t her mother’s susceptibility to the illness. It was the isolation. 

Ann Nelson, 79, lives at Extendicare Lakefield in Lakefield, Ont. She has suffered three strokes and has care needs that come along with that, including extra feeding time, since she can’t swallow.

But Robin Nelson said her mother also needs human contact and the peace of mind of knowing her daughter is there for her.

That’s why, Nelson said, she wanted to install a two-way audio camera in her mother’s room, so that even though she wouldn’t be able to help with her care every day, she could still check in to make sure she was breathing clearly and to let her know her family was there.

But the home wouldn’t allow it. 

“I know how busy they are,” Nelson said. “It’s not that I’m concerned about the basic care at this home. But … my mom’s needs are high. She’s very fragile. She’s at constant risk of choking.

Extendicare Lakefield, an Ontario long-term care home located 150 kilometres east of Toronto, said it doesn’t allow cameras with audio recording functionality to be installed in residents’ rooms. (Jean-Francois Bisson/CBC)

“With a two-way talk granny cam, I’d be able to see my mom 24 hours a day, and I’d be able to talk to her whenever. I need to see her face. I need to see her one hand, her right hand that moves.”

Extendicare, one of Canada’s largest providers of long-term care, owns or manages more than 100 homes in at least five provinces.

When asked by CBC about Nelson’s case, the company said in an email, “While we try to accommodate the interests of our residents and families when we can, in this instance, we need to take into account applicable law and our obligations to and the rights of others.

The concern in some long-term care homes is that if the resident leaves the room, there is the potential for the camera to record two people who enter the room without their consent, which, they fear, could violate the law around recording private conversations. 

The home told Nelson the camera she gave them was not allowed because it could record audio. She offered to disable the audio when she wasn’t interacting with her mom, but the home said they would only be willing to accommodate a video camera that couldn’t record audio.

“It has been our position that there are legal implications surrounding the equipment and capabilities that have prevented the installation,” said Dawn Baldwin, executive director of Extendicare Lakefield, in an email to Nelson.

“I am sorry that we could not come to the resolution you were looking for around the camera.”

‘Granny cams’ more common

So-called granny cams are increasingly used by families to keep an eye on their loved ones in long-term care homes. 

At first, Nelson said, Extendicare Lakefield seemed amenable to the idea. At the request of the home, Nelson had a technician install personal Wi-Fi in her mother’s room so the camera wouldn’t use the home’s Wi-Fi, and Nelson purchased a camera.

Everything was set up, and the administrators had the camera. All that was left to do was plug it in. But then the home decided not to activate it. 

Emails between Extendicare and Nelson indicated that Extendicare would accept an Axis M30 camera in the room. They described the camera as having no audio recording capabilities, no two-way communication function and ability to record video to a local memory card instead of live streaming it.

After suffering a third stroke, Ann Nelson moved into a long-term care facility. (Submitted by Robin Nelson)

Nelson was not happy with this compromise, especially since she isn’t allowed inside the home during the pandemic to retrieve the SD cards.

“The camera isn’t about just monitoring her care,” she said. “The camera is about being able to engage her, talk to her, coach her, so … she doesn’t feel alone.”

Baldwin at Extendicare told CBC in an email that the home “will continue to work respectfully with Ms. Nelson toward a solution that is acceptable.”

“We are happy to continue co-ordinating daily Skype calls over the lunch hour and window visits for Ms. Nelson and her family, which we know are hugely important for all our residents and families to keep spirits up.”

The home also told CBC it would be willing to accommodate an Amazon Echo, which allows two-way communication “without audio recording capabilities.”

WATCH | Robin Nelson wants to install a two-way audio camera in her mom’s room at the long-term care facility

Robin Nelson has been fighting to put a camera in her mother’s room at an Ontario long-term care home to monitor her care and communicate with her, but the home won’t allow it. 2:11

But Nelson said she fears the home will renege on that compromise after she buys one, since the Echo does technically have capacity to store audio, which seems to go against the home’s policy.

‘An absolute necessity’

Meanwhile, 300 km away in Ottawa, Diana Pepin said she can’t imagine getting through the pandemic without her granny camera. She has had one installed in her mother’s room at the Peter D. Clark Long Term Care Centre to keep an eye on her care since 2017.

Pepin originally had the audio switched off but turned it on after an illness put her 86-year-old mother, Viola, in the hospital. Pepin wanted to be able to monitor her breathing as she recovered. 

Pepin spoke to CBC’s Marketplace in 2018 about the abuse she discovered when she reviewed the camera’s recordings.

“Die, die, you bitch. You’ve got to die now,” said one of the personal support workers to her mother as she dressed her.

The outburst led to the worker being fired, along with two other staffers who witnessed the abuse and did not report it.

Pepin has since become something of an advocate for the use of cameras as a tool to help improve care when long-term care residents are unable to speak for themselves.

Diana Pepin holds an image of her mother captured by a camera she installed in her nursing home room in 2017. Pepin said she’s relieved to be able to see her mother during the lockdown. (Submitted by Diana Pepin)

“I don’t know how many people I have told to get that camera in the room,” she said. “It’s an absolute necessity.”

Pepin said the camera helps her ensure staff are following safety protocols in her mother’s room and can intervene if she sees something she thinks might put her mother at risk.

But even with the camera in the room, Pepin shares some of Robin Nelson’s worries about her mother’s mental health now that she can’t be in the home every day.

“I have no idea what she’s hearing or if it’s even audible,” Pepin said. “I don’t want Mom to feel that she’s abandoned.”

Legal confusion over audio recording

While granny cams are becoming more common, and are permitted in many care homes, the use of audio recording is often a point of confusion and legal debate.

The Advocacy Centre for the Elderly in Toronto supports the use of the cameras, but its policy, dating from 2013, states “it is not recommended that ‘granny cams’ have an audio function.”

“It is an offence under the Criminal Code to record a private conversation without the consent of the party,” the policy says. “The audio component could potentially record a conversation between a roommate and their visitors or two staff members having a conversation in the room.”

The law generally states that you’re not allowed to record a conversation without consent unless you are an active participant in that conversation. 

Daniel Nassrallah, an Ottawa lawyer and advocate, said he disagrees that this law would apply in residents’ rooms. In fact, he advises his clients — including Pepin — to install cameras with audio functionality in their loved ones’ rooms to monitor their care.

Daniel Nassrallah, an Ottawa-based lawyer, said he’s heard from half a dozen clients in the last year who have received pushback from long-term care homes about the use of cameras in residents’ rooms. (CBC)

Yet he said he’s had half a dozen clients in the last year who have received pushback from homes about the use of cameras.

He said he defends the use of cameras for two reasons. First, he said, the law is specific to recording without consent, so if the home makes it clear that there is recording in the room, there shouldn’t be a legal issue.

He said the camera doesn’t have to be hidden, and homes can put signs up on the door so anyone entering the room is reminded that there is a camera recording at all times.

‘These cameras are legal’

Second, he said that even if there was no sign, staff don’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy when they’re in a resident’s room. 

“We install cameras not necessarily with the approval of [care home] management, but we hope to obtain their blessing,” Nassrallah said. “These cameras are legal. From the video side of it, as well as the audio side of it.”

Nassrallah said his position is supported by a Quebec regulation as well as case law out of Quebec from 2017 that specifically establishes the resident’s room as their home and their power of attorney’s right to install audio/video recording devices.

The union representing long-term care workers in Quebec challenged that ruling at the federal level, but the Supreme Court of Canada rejected the appeal, which, Nassrallah said, means it could be accepted as persuasive common law in Ontario.

Extendicare’s legal department told CBC the Supreme Court’s rejection shouldn’t be read as an endorsement of the Quebec ruling since the court doesn’t give reasons for why it rejects appeals.

Urging ‘exception’ during pandemic

The Ontario Personal Support Workers’ Association, which represents 41,000 care workers across the province, said its members support the right of relatives to install cameras.

Miranda Ferrier, president of OPSWA, said she thinks homes should be especially accommodating during this time of crisis.

“I think there should be an exception made when there is a COVID-19 outbreak and [families] can’t go in and see their loved one,” she said. “If a family wants to put in a two-way audio where they can actually talk to their loved ones and check in on them and so forth, what do we care?”

She suggested it could even take some of the workload off PSWs in terms of trying to keep a resident connected with their family.

“We have to think about the well-being of all residents in these long-term care homes,” she said.

Robin Nelson has started a petition, which has more than 700 signatures so far, asking for Ontario’s Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care to explicitly allow the use of two-way talk cameras in the Long-term Care Homes Act.

She said she’ll continue to fight for the use of the camera in her mother’s home.

“This isn’t about a granny cam, It’s about … the ill effects of isolation and how it’s affecting seniors in a far greater number than COVID-19 right now.”

Across the country, Canadian families have been restricted to window visits with their loved ones as nursing homes try to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Please send confidential tips to Katie.Pedersen@cbc.ca.

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