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Ottawa will rush $2.2 billion in expected funding to cities; Ontario ombudsman launches investigation into province's oversight of LTC homes; 491 new cases in Ontario – Toronto Star



The latest novel coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Monday (this file will be updated throughout the day). Web links to longer stories if available.

12:30 p.m.: After four consecutive days reporting more than 16,000 completed COVID-19 tests, Ontario once again says its testing labs have failed to hit the provincial target.

In its Monday-morning update, the province reported the labs completed just 14,379 tests on Sunday, down nearly 3,000 from Saturday and more than 6,000 from Friday.

The province says the labs have the capacity to complete about 20,000 tests daily. Premier Doug Ford, who has called for widespread testing as a key part of Ontario’s response to the pandemic, faced criticism after the labs reported daily totals far below target for 10 straight days in late May.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Ontario has reported significant drops in test collection on weekends, which has led to very low rates of activity at the labs on the following days. Since April 1, Ontario has completed an average of about 8,000 tests a day on Mondays, an average that goes up nearly 65 per cent to 12,500 on a typical Friday.

Likewise, the province’s Monday update reported low levels of test collection Sunday: About 11,000 patients’ samples were added to the testing queue, down from more than 20,000 Friday.

Meanwhile, Ontario’s regional health units are reporting another 491 new COVID-19 cases since the same time Sunday morning, a very large 24-hour increase that included a jump of more than 100 confirmed infections in Haldimand-Norfolk, which has seen dozens of cases in an outbreak among migrant farmers.

As of 11 a.m. Monday, Ontario’s regional health units are reporting a total of 29,718 confirmed and probable cases, including 2,330 deaths.

The 14 fatal cases reported in the province since Sunday morning was below recent days. The rate of deaths is down considerably since peaking at more than 90 deaths in a day earlier this month, about two weeks after the daily case totals hit a first peak in mid-April.

The province also reported 781 patients are now hospitalized with COVID-19, including 118 in intensive care, of whom 90 are on a ventilator — numbers that have fallen sharply this month. The province also says nearly 22,000 patients who have tested positive for the coronavirus have now recovered from the disease — about three-quarters of the total infected.

The province says its data is accurate to 4 p.m. the previous day. The province also cautions its latest count of total deaths — 2,247 — may be incomplete or out of date due to delays in the reporting system, saying that in the event of a discrepancy, “data reported by (the health units) should be considered the most up to date.”

The Star’s count includes some patients reported as “probable” COVID-19 cases, meaning they have symptoms and contacts or travel history that indicate they very likely have the disease, but have not yet received a positive lab test.

12:12 p.m. (updated): Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dube is launching his own investigation into how Premier Doug Ford’s government handled the tragic pandemic situation in nursing homes, where almost 1,700 residents have died of COVID-19.

Dube said he made the decision after last week’s devastating military medical report horrific conditions at five homes where it sent military medical teams, including patients fed forcefully to the point of choking and left in soiled diapers crying for help.

“The Canadian Armed Forces report painted a stunning portrait of the situation in long-term care during this crisis,” Dube added in a statement Monday.

12:10 p.m.: Premier Doug Ford is pushing to extend Ontario’s COVID-19 state of emergency until June 30.

As the current emergency declaration, which has been in effect since March 17, expires Tuesday, Ford’s majority Progressive Conservatives want another 28-day extension.

But Independent MPP Randy Hillier (Larnark-Frontenac-Kingston) hopes to force the government to share the rationale for the move with Ontarians.

12:05 p.m.: What are your rights as you return to work in the middle of a pandemic? We asked two employment lawyers. Read the full story from Toronto Star contributing columnist David Aston.

11:35 a.m. (updated): Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the federal government is rushing $2.2 billion in expected infrastructure funding to Canada’s cities.

He says sending gas-tax funds months sooner than planned should ease municipalities’ cash-flow concerns.

Normally, payments are made in two instalments to more than 3,600 communities, first in the summer and then later in the year, but Trudeau says the money is being sent in one shot now.

Speaking outside his Ottawa residence, Trudeau says the money can be used for construction projects to meet local infrastructure needs and put people to work.

Municipalities have seen steep losses in revenues through the COVID-19 pandemic as fewer people pay for transit or parking, and recreation centres stay closed without programs to fill local coffers.

The $2.2 billion is much less than municipalities say they need.

Toronto alone says it’s facing a $1.5-billion shortfall this fiscal year and will need to slash services.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities has estimated the hole in operating budgets across all cities at between $10 billion and $15 billion over the next six months, depending on the severity and duration of the pandemic-related shutdown.

11:30 a.m.: Many services and business are reopening across Quebec today after several weeks of pandemic-induced shutdowns.

Daycares are now open in the greater Montreal area and in the administrative region of Joliette, a town about 65 kilometres northeast.

Courthouses across the province have been permitted to reopen gradually, starting today, with limited seating capacity and Plexiglas protecting clerks and judges.

Camping is now allowed outside the Montreal and Joliette regions, as are country home rentals.

Shopping malls, nail salons and other personal care centres are also reopening, but only outside the Montreal area.

Quebec recorded 20 more COVID-19-related deaths in the past 24 hours, for a total of 4,661, as well as 295 new cases of the disease for a total of 51,354.

11:30 a.m.: Nova Scotia is reporting one new case of COVID-19 bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the province to 1,057.

Six people are currently in hospital, with two of those patients in intensive care.

To date, Nova Scotia has registered 42,426 negative test results and 60 deaths. Officials say 984 people have now recovered from the illness.

11:25 a.m.: Toronto Public Library has reopened 53 additional library branch drop boxes to accept the return of library materials, the next step in its rollout of curbside drop-off and pick-up service. Toronto residents will be able to start scheduling the pickup of their reserved materials as of June 8.

The agency began reinstating drop box service on May 25 at 17 library branches and have now expanded it to 70 branches. Drop boxes are currently only accepting return of library books, magazines, DVDs, CDs, and audio books.

Fragile and large materials such as musical instruments or Arduino kits are not being accepted at this time as they may be damaged by dropping into drop boxes. Donations are also not being accepted at this time. While residents are encouraged to return their borrowed items, it is not mandatory.

They can continue to hold on to them until branches reopen and they will not be charged fines during this period.

11:13 a.m.: A livestream of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s daily news conference will be available at

11:02 a.m.: Sixty-seven residents have died at the Camilla Care Centre in Mississauga, Ont. since the pandemic began, according to provincial data released Monday.

The province also reported 13 current residents and 11 staff with COVID-19 at the long-term care home.

The 236-bed facility, owned and operated by Sienna Senior Living Inc., has the highest number of deaths for a long-term care facility in Peel Region, according to the province.

The Ford government announced last week that it would be taking over operations at this facility, one of five homes the province would take control.

“We need boots on the ground; I want eyes and ears in the homes that we’re most worried about, keeping a close watch,” Ford said during a news conference announcing the decision last week.

11 a.m.: Stimulus, an infusion of public money broadly injected into the economy, is the usual response of governments to help reverse a downturn. But this economic shock is anything but traditional and the measures to address it will have to be different.

Read the full story here from the Star’s Bruce Campion-Smith.

10:45 a.m.: Ontario is reporting Monday morning that the number of tests completed the previous day dropped to 14,379 — down from a high of more than 20,000 reported Saturday — as the amount tends to fall after a weekend.

10:30 a.m.: Billions of dollars flowing to Canadian cities ahead of schedule will help Toronto, Mayor John Tory says, but they are not “the main event” cities need to recover from COVID-19 impacts.

Reacting to an exclusive report from the Toronto’s Star’s Bruce Campion-Smith, Tory told CP24 he has been told Toronto will get a cheque “which will not be for a small sum but it is money that we were going to get anyway . . .

“But it’s not the main event. The discussions about the real needs we have to make up for the lost TTC revenue, the lost land transfer tax revenue and so on — those discussions are ongoing.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will announce Monday that cities will get their share of gas tax revenues “much, much sooner,” a federal official told the Star.

Municipalities’ finances across Canada have been hit hard by pandemic-related shutdowns both in terms of loss of normal revenues and extra costs.

In April, municipalities asked the provinces and Ottawa for $10 billion in new funding — $7.6 billion to cover operating losses and another $1.5 billion for transit operating losses. Toronto alone says the pandemic will cost it at least 1.5 billion in 2020.

Tory said Ontario Premier Doug Ford is helping Toronto in “very positive” discussions with the Trudeau government for a significant bailout package.

Federal officials have “been positive with me and other mayors but we need a lot more help than what is being provided today . . . ,” Tory said. “It is crucial to the proper economic recovery of this country that cities should be healthy.”

Read the full story from the Star’s David Rider.

9:30 a.m.: Ontario workers who aren’t in unions and who have their hours reduced or eliminated by employers because of the COVID-19 slowdown will still be considered employed under changes retroactive to March 1.

The province said Monday it is changing regulations to consider such workers on “infectious disease emergency leave,” which also means the employee won’t be entitled to severance that may apply.

When layoffs exceed the permitted length under the Employment Standards Act, terminations are triggered that leave people out of work and employers on the hook for thousands of dollars in payouts.

Here’s the full story from the Star’s Rob Ferguson.

9 a.m.: The Rogers Centre will temporarily hold 4.5 million kilograms (10 million pounds) of food as the Toronto Blue Jays partner with Food Banks Canada to provide food for those in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The charitable arm of Toronto’s baseball team, the Jays Care Foundation, announced a partnership with Food Banks Canada and Rogers Communications for its ‘Step Up to the Plate’ initiative.

The initiative intends to keep 6,000 pallets of food, equivalent to about eight million meals, in the Rogers Centre arena before being distributed to families with the help of hundreds of Rogers employees as volunteers.

“We have a responsibility to give back and help our family members in need,” said Melinda Rogers-Hixon, deputy chairman of the board at Rogers Communications, in a news release.

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“With Rogers Centre vacant until baseball returns, we have an exciting opportunity to open our pantry of assets and offer a much-need resource for Food Banks Canada.”

8:45 a.m.: Several new policies aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19 came into effect at Pearson airport on Monday.

According to a news release issued by the airport last week, all passengers and airport workers are required to wear face coverings at all times in public areas of the airport, effective today. The policy includes parking facilities, sidewalks and curbs outside the terminal and security screening areas.

The airport has also restricted terminal access to passengers travelling on the same day, as well as airport employees on duty.

“Meeters and greeters,” namely those dropping friends and family off at the airport or coming to collect them, are no longer permitted to enter the terminals, the airport said.

8:22 a.m. Montenegro, the first country in Europe to declare itself “coronavirus-free,” has started letting in foreign tourists as of Monday as it seeks to salvage the tourism season following the virus outbreak.

The tiny Adriatic state’s authorities have listed 131 countries whose citizens can enter without any restrictions, if they currently have at most 25 active COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people.

Nevertheless, Montenegro’s government tweeted Monday that “tourists mostly from Western European countries started arriving as of midnight.”

In a bid to attract wary European tourists looking for a safe place to spend their holidays, Montenegro has been advertising itself as a “corona-free” destination since it officially has had no new cases of COVID-19 infections for the past several weeks.

8:12 a.m. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday will pledge several billion dollars in assistance to help cash-strapped cities whose bottom lines have been battered by the pandemic, the Star has learned.

Trudeau is expected to roll out details at his daily briefing of Ottawa’s plan to bring some financial relief to towns and cities that have seen costs soar and revenues plummet because of the pandemic.

The federal money will be earmarked for infrastructure projects, according to a senior official who spoke on background because the funding had not yet been publicly announced.

That could be a potential problem for municipal politicians who have been seeking help with daily operating costs, though the official stressed the funding would help the immediate needs.

Read the full story by the Star’s Bruce Campion-Smith

7:42 a.m. The World Health Organization says that about half of countries surveyed in a new analysis have had partial or complete disruption of services for people with high blood pressure and diabetes treatment during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

In a survey of 155 countries last month, the UN health agency found worrying problems in the provision of health care for people with non-communicable diseases, many of whom are at higher risk of severe complications from COVID-19.

“Many people who need treatment for diseases like cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes have not been receiving the health services and medicines they need since the COVID-19 pandemic began,” said WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a statement. “It’s vital that countries find innovative ways to ensure that essential services . . . continue even as they fight COVID-19.”

The survey also found that 42 per cent of countries had interrupted services for cancer patients and 31 per cent for heart emergencies. In more than 90 per cent of countries, health care staff had been partially or fully reassigned to pandemic duties.

7:37 a.m.: Turkish Airlines resumed limited domestic flights, restaurants welcomed sit-in customers and beaches and museums reopened as Turkey’s broadest easing of coronavirus restrictions came into effect Monday.

A Turkish Airlines flight, with 156 people on board, departed from Ankara airport for Istanbul as Turkey lifted a travel ban between 15 of its worst-affected provinces. The air routes between Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Antalya and Trabzon are the first start, with others scheduled to follow gradually.

Traffic jams returned to Istanbul, Turkey’s most populous city, while intercity roads filled with people heading for hometowns or to resorts.

Meanwhile, restaurants and cafes opened their doors to a limited number of customers after some two months of takeout services only.

Istanbul’s 15th-century Grand Bazaar, museums, libraries, gyms, swimming pools, child care centres and nurseries were among other venues allowed to resume operations.

7:16 a.m.: Spanish clubs resumed full squad training on Monday, beginning the final stage of preparations for the return to competition.

Clubs will have just under two weeks of full sessions before the league restarts on June 11, almost three months after it was halted because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Training was only previously allowed with groups of up to 14 players. Clubs began individual sessions a few weeks ago and had been gradually increasing their workload.

On Monday, Barcelona showed an image of coach Quique Setién surrounded by the entire squad in training, along with the message “Together Again”, and a video of Lionel Messi scoring a goal.

Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid also showed their players training in full groups.

The resumption of normal training comes a day after the league confirmed the dates and times of the first two rounds of matches following its suspension in mid-March. The first game will be the derby between Sevilla and Real Betis on June 11.

Leader Barcelona will resume at Mallorca on June 13, with Atlético visiting Athletic Bilbao on June 14 and Real Madrid hosting Eibar. The derby between Valencia and Levante will be played on June 12.

7:14 a.m.: Britain moved to further ease lockdown restrictions on Monday despite warnings from some health officials that the risk of spreading COVID-19 was still too great.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma told the BBC that the government is taking action in phases to ease restrictions first put in place since March 23. But many are worried, as infection rates remain high.

Some schools are reopening in England and some social restrictions have been relaxed, allowing people to have limited contact with family and friends as long as it is done outdoors and with social distancing. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are also easing lockdowns, in slightly different ways.

Restrictions on vulnerable elderly people and those with some underlying health conditions — who have been asked to remain indoors and stay away from other people since March —have also been eased as the government moves to restore some normalcy in daily life and to revive the economy.

4 a.m: As COVID-19 cases continue to decline in much of Canada, some provinces are moving today to loosen more of the restrictions they implemented to slow the spread of the pandemic.

British Columbia is giving parents the option of sending their children back to school on a part-time basis.

For kindergarten to Grade 5, most students will go to school half time, while grades 6 to 12 will attend classes about one day a week. The government has said its goal is for the return of full-time classes in September.

Manitoba is easing a raft of restrictions, including its ban on people visiting loved ones in personal care homes, though safeguards such as screening visitors and maintaining physical distancing will apply.

In Ottawa this morning, Prime Minister Trudeau will resume his daily briefings on the pandemic after taking the weekend off.

On Sunday Canada’s total number of confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases stood at 90,929 — 739 more than the day before — with the vast majority of cases in Quebec and Ontario. Some 48,854 cases were listed as being resolved, while the number of deaths from the illness rose by 222 to 7,295.

Sunday, 5:12 p.m.: Ontario’s regional health units are reporting another 381 new COVID-19 infections, according to the Star’s latest count.

As of 5 p.m. Sunday, the health units have reported a total of 29,586 confirmed and probable cases, including 2,328 deaths, as the daily counts have fallen from a spike that saw the totals above 400 cases per day most of last week.

Read more here from Ed Tubb.

1 p.m.: Eighteen residents of Woodbridge Vista Care Community were transported to hospital on Saturday night after testing positive for COVID-19, York Region said.

York Region spokesperson Stephanie Crowley confirmed that paramedics transferred the 18 patients from the long-term-care home near Steeles Avenue and Martin Grove Road to hospitals outside York Region. Crowley did not specify the conditions of the patients.

Read the full story here.

More coverage from Sunday.

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Canada sees lowest daily coronavirus death toll in 2 months, 759 new cases –



The novel coronavirus pandemic has claimed 31 more lives across Canada, yet the number represents the lowest daily death toll in two months.

Monday also saw just 759 new confirmed infections across only six provinces — nearly matching Sunday’s number of new cases and marking a full week with numbers below 1,000.

Canada has now seen 91,694 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. Of those, 7,326 people have died and 49,739 patients have since recovered from the illness.

How many Canadians have the new coronavirus? Total number of confirmed cases by region

The last day the country saw a death toll as low as Monday’s was on April 2, when 27 people died. The number of new deaths has trended downward since Saturday, after weeks that saw an average of 100 people and more dying daily.

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While the number of new cases has been trending downward since the beginning of May, the past week has seen a sharper decline since May 26, when fewer than 1,000 infections were confirmed for the first time since March 29.

Monday saw Ontario, with 404 new cases, surpass the total reported by Quebec at 295. The last time that happened was on March 22, as Quebec has regularly topped the country in new infections — often by wide margins.

Yet both provinces recorded their lowest death tolls in weeks: Quebec saw 20 more deaths, while in Ontario, 10 people died over the past 24 hours.

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Nova Scotia was the only province in Atlantic Canada to report any cases Monday, and only saw one new infection.

Coronavirus outbreak: Trudeau calls for more ‘granularity’ on COVID-19 data

Coronavirus outbreak: Trudeau calls for more ‘granularity’ on COVID-19 data

In the west, Alberta announced 34 more cases, while British Columbia recorded 24 new cases — representing numbers over the past 48 hours — and one additional death. Saskatchewan also reported a new case while announcing a previously-reported case had come back negative after retesting.

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Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador and New Brunswick reported no new cases after seeing upticks in recent days. Prince Edward Island and the three northern territories have gone several weeks without new cases.

Every province and territory has now relaxed some physical distancing and economic shutdown measures, with an eye towards reopening businesses and public spaces.

Physical distancing, mask use cuts relative coronavirus risk by at least 80%, study finds

The federal government is now setting its sights on contact tracing and supporting municipalities and provinces. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday said Ottawa is rushing $2.2 billion in expected infrastructure funding to Canada’s cities.

Worldwide, the coronavirus pandemic has infected more than 6.25 million people and killed over 375,000 people. The United States remains the country with the most confirmed cases, at 1.8 million, while its death toll of 105,000 is also the highest globally.

Canada is currently the 14th most infected country in the world based solely on the number of cases confirmed, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Trudeau says anti-black racism is alive in Canada and 'we need to be better' –



Prime Minister Justin Trudeau vowed today to do more to end anti-black racism in Canada after days of massive street protests in U.S. and Canadian cities against police brutality.

Trudeau said racism is not a uniquely American problem and more must be done in Canada to address systemic inequalities that have long plagued black and Indigenous communities.

“We need to be better in Canada. Even though we’ve made strides forward in the fight against racism and discrimination, racism still exists in Canada,” he said. “To young black Canadians, I hear you when you say you are anxious and angry.”

He said his government has funded black community groups, supported anti-racism programming and bolstered the collection of racial data at Statistics Canada to fight against discrimination, but he promised to do more.

Watch: Justin Trudeau addresses anti-black racism

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with reporters on Monday. 2:31

Protests have erupted in major North American cities in response to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody. 

Floyd, 46, died a week ago after a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee on his neck for just over eight minutes. His death was caught on video and swiftly went viral around the world.

All four responding officers were fired. The officer who pinned Floyd to the ground, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh called the video of George Floyd’s death “chilling” and “painful” and called on Canadians to channel the anger they feel over his death into action against injustice here in Canada.

Singh said Canadian police need more “de-escalation” training so routine police stops don’t turn deadly for racialized Canadians.

Singh started his political career in provincial politics and led a fight against the police policy of random street stops of minorities, known as ‘carding’.

“We need to tackle the injustice in the criminal justice system — the over-policing of black bodies and black lives,” he said.

Watch: Jagmeet Singh calls for criminal justice reform

Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh spoke with reporters on Parliament Hill on Monday. 2:47

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said he was “heartbroken” to see the video of Floyd’s death.

“No one should ever feel unsafe around police officers who must uphold the law for all, or feel unsafe because of the colour of their skin. We all have a responsibility to fight anti-black racism,” he said.

Watch: Andrew Scheer says he’s ‘heartbroken’

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer was asked about protests over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis, in light of his own comments months ago that Wetʼsuwetʼen supporters were “radical activists” and should “check their privilege.” 2:38

Some of the protests demanding fair treatment from police have turned violent. A number of cities have been hit by looting and rioting.

In Montreal Sunday night, vandals broke into a music store and stole guitars, while others defaced buildings with graffiti.

Trudeau condemned the violence, saying it distracts from calls for an end to institutional racism.

“They do not represent the peaceful protesters who are standing up for very real issues in Canada,” he said.

Asked whether his own history of wearing blackface diminishes his ability to provide moral leadership on the problem of anti-black racism, Trudeau said he has “spoken many times about how deeply I regret my actions hurt many, many people.”

“We need to focus on doing better every single day, regardless of what we did or hadn’t done in our past,” he added.

Families, Children and Social Development Minister Ahmed Hussen, a Somali-Canadian, said in a tweet Sunday that he has “heard from people who have said that we should not worry about what is happening in the U.S. because that is not our problem.”

But he said racism is “a lived reality for black Canadians,” and he asked other Canadians to “step up” and “raise your voices and ensure that real inclusion accompanies the diversity of our country.”

He said black Canadians are disproportionately followed in stores by shop owners fearing theft, while black drivers have every reason to be anxious when they’re pulled over by a police officer.

“Check the unconscious bias around you and within you,” Hussen said.

That tweet received an angry response from Ed Ammar, a former chairperson of Alberta’s United Conservative Party, who tweeted at Hussen: “Don’t bring this to Canada you f—ing loser.”

Tweeting a video of the destruction in Montreal, Ammar, a Lebanese-Canadian immigrant, said: “Don’t bring what’s happening in the U.S. across the borders.”

Hussen addressed Ammar’s comments in an interview with CBC News Monday. “I publicly invite Mr. Ammar to call me,” he said.

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Strange symptoms, flare-ups, weeks-long illnesses for some COVID-19 survivors –



Chandra Pasma thought it was strange when she started feeling a burning sensation in her neck and ear canal.

It was March 16, just days after COVID-19 had been declared a pandemic, and the 40-year-old Ottawa resident knew people were being infected across the country. But since her symptoms weren’t among those listed for the virus, she didn’t think much of it.

Then every single member of Pasma’s household started falling ill.

First it was her husband, 44-year-old Matt Helleman, who suddenly felt exhausted. Just days later, the couple’s three children — seven-year-old twins and a nine-year-old daughter — started experiencing fevers, sore throats, and fatigue. And around the same time, Pasma’s own symptoms ramped up into chest pain and a cough.

“I thought, oh crap,” she recalls. “This is COVID.”

Like many people with milder forms of the illness, the whole family hunkered down, hoping to get better over a couple weeks at home — not knowing it would mark the start of a months-long recovery, with none of the family members feeling back to normal even now, more than 10 weeks later.

So far, at least 90,000 Canadians have been infected with COVID-19. In some cases, the illness leads to a stay in intensive care or even causes death, with roughly 7,000 people dying to date. 

But in most other instances, those suffering from less-severe forms do recover outside the health-care system. What’s growing clear, both patients and clinicians agree, is that some of those people wind up facing a long, rocky road to recovery.

‘Constant cycle’ of new symptoms

A few months back, as the little-understood virus was first spreading around the world, health officials initially described it as a respiratory illness, even weaving that piece into its official name: SARS-CoV-2, referring to “severe acute respiratory syndrome.”

Since then, evidence and patient stories have emerged suggesting it actually impacts various parts of the body.

One recent study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, for instance, determined that changes to someone’s ability to taste and smell are likely a common feature of infection — a symptom first noticed anecdotally by doctors around the world.

Similarly, early notions of a roughly two-week recovery period for mild cases — outlined in a February review of preliminary Chinese data from the World Health Organization — have been questioned by people who say their less-severe illnesses are still taking weeks, if not months, to fully clear up.

Pasma first realized her family wasn’t alone after joining a COVID-19 support group called Body Politic on Slack, an online communication platform. The group now includes more than 4,000 people. 

There, she met other global COVID-19 sufferers who were also documenting weeks-long illnesses with a strange mix of symptoms.

In Pasma’s home, multiple family members wound up having gastrointestinal issues, such as nausea and diarrhea, while she experienced inflammation in between her lungs and chest wall. Then, weeks later, a chicken pox-like rash broke out on her stomach and upper thigh.

Business trips

“It just went on like that: A constant cycle of new symptoms developing,” Pasma said. “One symptom would get better, and I’d start to feel optimistic I was through it. Then something new would set in — something totally random and strange.”

She isn’t sure where she caught the illness, but said it may have been during one of two business trips to Toronto for her job as a researcher at the Canadian Union of Public Employees in the weeks before her symptoms started.

Like many Canadians early in the pandemic, she wasn’t told to get tested by her family physician, who instead encouraged her to just stay at home. 

It’s an experienced echoed by others, who’ve reported bouts of illness but no positive test result to record their experience as a confirmed case of COVID-19 — an issue more common when testing guidelines in many places like Ontario were initially tied to travel abroad, which now represents the transmission source for less than six per cent of all confirmed cases to date in the province.

Test came back negative

Some now question how many cases are flying under the radar, amid additional concerns over false negatives from COVID-19 tests, which detect the active virus circulating in someone’s body, and a lack of access to antibody testing to see if someone previously had the virus, which wasn’t approved for use in Canada until May and isn’t widely available.

For Pasma, it wasn’t until after her symptoms worsened, flaring up a previous bout of pneumonia, that she went to a local hospital and got tested.

The test came back negative. Pasma believes that’s because it came so late in her illness — not that she wasn’t infected.

“There seems to be zero followup,” she said. “I don’t know if there would be more follow up if we were acknowledged cases.”

Pasma also worries both the media and medical community have painted COVID-19 as far too binary, either on or off.

“You get better in two weeks, or you die,” she said. “There’s no talk at all about what happens to the people who do not get better in two weeks.”

600+ people surveyed about symptoms

Hannah Wei, a Toronto-based design and qualitative researcher who helped launch the Slack channel where COVID-positive people are swapping recovery stories, said most people are lacking “clarity” about how COVID-19 plays out beyond the most critical cases.

Like Pasma, Wei also believes she got the illness back in March, likely after travelling abroad to Taiwan. But she didn’t get tested after she returned to Canada because she said hospital staff in Vancouver, where she was staying for a client meeting, told her they were short on nasal swabs.

Wei said she was sent back to her Airbnb room with just a sheet of paper featuring COVID-19 information from the hospital’s website. She wound up stuck there with no followup until she tested negative weeks later before finally flying back home to Toronto.

“There’s no centralized way to track and monitor how we’re all doing,” she said.

Hannah Wei, a Toronto-based design and qualitative researcher, helped launch the Slack channel Body Politic where COVID-positive people are swapping recovery stories. (Supplied by Hannah Wei)

To give sufferers more insight into the spectrum of symptoms and recovery time frames, Wei’s team surveyed around 640 people from both their online channel, which is primarily younger adult COVID-19 sufferers, and other social media platforms.

Many respondents shared similar experiences of weeks-long recoveries, with some stretching beyond a month, and featuring a range of symptoms — including respiratory issues, gastrointestinal problems, and sometimes neurological symptoms like dizziness, trouble concentrating, insomnia, or just a general feeling of “brain fog.”  

“When we ran the survey, people were on, on average, their 40th day,” Wei said. “A lot of these people, they’re getting to the point where they’re not quite recovering, but they’re not severely sick in the bed either. They just can’t get back to their normal life.”

Patients calling for more followup

Wei and Pasma both say the medical community needs to focus more on these under-the-radar patients.

Ontario family physicians who spoke to CBC News say thanks to the rise of telemedicine, it’s easier to keep in touch with COVID-19 patients who don’t need hospital care. Still, treating them remains a challenge given the wide range of symptoms and length of illness.

It’s a mixed bag, according to Markham-based family physician Allan Grill.

“You can have patients with mild symptoms that recover in a few days, like less than a week,” said Grill, who is chief of family medicine at Markham Stouffville Hospital and lead physician at the Markham family health team.

“You can have other people where the symptoms last two or three weeks.”

WATCH | Physical distancing advice for those who have recovered from COVID-19:

An infectious disease specialist answers viewer questions about the COVID-19 pandemic, including whether someone who has recovered from COVID-19 can stop physical distancing. 2:46

Pasma said the digital divide between patients and care providers can leave people feeling isolated as they recover at home.

As she and her family slowly get their lives back, she’s hoping more physicians grow aware of the challenging recovery process many COVID-19 sufferers are experiencing — so they can give newly diagnosed patients a heads up on what to expect, and help them manage the possible weeks ahead.

“Just because you’re well and don’t die from pneumonia doesn’t mean you won’t spend three or four months of your life trying to recover from this virus,” she said.

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