Shock and sadness dominated Brampton this weekend, as a local teen succumbed to COVID-19 — one of the youngest victims of the pandemic to date.
When Emily Viegas started exhibiting some of the same COVID-19 symptoms that had put her mother in hospital – difficulty breathing, an inability to stand – her father, Carlos, faced an agonizing situation. He was the only one in his family of four who had tested negative for COVID-19 and was at home in Brampton, Ont., with his two children while his wife was at Brampton Civic Hospital on oxygen.
Mr. Viegas was under strict self-isolation orders from public health and wasn’t sure if he should call an ambulance. He also knew Brampton Civic was one of the most strained hospitals in the country and he feared his daughter might be taken to a hospital further away in another Toronto suburb, Oakville.
He didn’t like the idea of her being separated from both her parents. He routinely checked her temperature, gave her Tylenol to bring her fever down, and urged her to drink lots of water and eat some of her favourite foods – hot dogs and multigrain pasta – even though she didn’t have much of an appetite.
She was just 13, Mr. Viegas reasoned, and she would probably be back to normal quickly. The next day, April 22, she became one of the youngest Canadians to die from COVID-19 and part of a growing trend of younger victims in the pandemic’s third wave.
Severe outcomes from COVID-19 infections remain exceedingly rare in children. Though 208,195 people under 19 have been infected with COVID-19 as of April 23, the majority have had mild cases. In total, 142 have been admitted to ICU and eight have died, according to national statistics. Though Mr. Viegas was the only one in the family to leave the apartment over the past many months – he was the sole breadwinner and worked at a warehouse – he was somehow the only one spared from COVID-19.
“If our hospitals run out of beds, no one can get treated,” she continued. Last month, the topic of workplace outbreaks came to the forefront after 600-plus cases of the virus were linked to an Amazon warehouse located in Brampton, prompting Peel Public Health to intervene and order “thousands” of workers to self-isolate.
In a statement on Mar. 12, Ministry of Labour spokesperson Harry Godfrey said the investigation into the outbreak, which began at Amazon’s Heritage Road fulfillment centre, was launched, in part, due to a number of visits the site had received from Ministry inspectors since Mar. 2020. “We continue to work closely with Peel Public Health and others to provide support, advice and enforcement as needed to ensure the health and safety of Ontario’s workers.”
Other Peel frontline warehouses, including Canada Post’s Gateway Terminal, Maple Lodge Farms and others have faced their own battles with outbreaks, prompting local and provincial intervention.
The province also announced earlier this week that, in response to federal comments about the applicability for residents to receive the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, Shoppers Drug Mart locations in Brampton and Mississauga would make the vaccine available to residents 40 and over, conditional on vaccine supply. The country’s manufacturing authority also cautioned the province to provide a strong plan going forward for the manufacturing sector, as failure to act could negatively impact supply chains throughout Ontario and beyond.
Also, Brampton MPPs, called for greater supports for workers, including increased vaccine availability
“Our community has been on fire with COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, yet the government continues to neglect Brampton by failing to give us the urgent resources we need as a hot spot,” NDP MPPs Gurratan Singh, Sara Singh and Kevin Yarde said on Wednesday evening. “We are calling on the province to rush more vaccines to Brampton, and shut down non-essential workplaces temporarily, while giving direct financial compensation to workers and local businesses that are impacted. This dangerous explosion of COVID-19 is not Brampton’s fault, and Brampton families and businesses should not have to pay the price.”