After almost a year of death and isolation, everyone could use a bit of hope.
Retired Gen. Rick Hillier, who’s in charge of distributing Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccines, said he’s clinging to stories of people receiving their shots.
“This is the only light in the COVID-19 tragedy right now,” he told reporters at Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s press conference Tuesday.
Last week, he said, a woman in her 90s had her entire extended family on Zoom to watch her get her first vaccine dose.
“We all draw upon those inspirational moments every time we get tired,” Hillier said.
Ontario passed its first hump in the journey Tuesday. Residents, workers and essential caregivers in long-term care homes have all got their first dose of the vaccine in seven regions: Toronto, Peel, York, Windsor-Essex, Ottawa, Durham and Simcoe Muskoka. These facilities have been devastated by the pandemic, with 3,239 residents and 10 staff passing away.
Almost a quarter of a million doses of the vaccine have now been administered in Ontario.
Here are three stories from front-line workers in these homes.
Sue McCullagh, 59
Sue McCullagh has been a personal support worker (PSW) for 17 years. She works at Trillium Manor in Orillia, Ont., and has been assigned to the unit for COVID-19 patients since around Jan. 9.
“It takes a lot of courage just to walk through the doors,” she told HuffPost Canada.
She’s been sleeping in a separate room from her husband because she’s worried about giving him the virus. And she’s gone above and beyond to cheer up her coworkers, who’ve sometimes cried at work out of exhaustion, and work with their gloves filled with sweat from all the personal protective equipment (PPE) they have to wear.
“It’s kind of hard, but we’re somehow doing it.”
We keep doing our job because we love taking care of people.
Sue McCullagh, personal support worker
She surprised other staff with balloons, silver stars and happy faces, after a particularly difficult time.
McCullagh got her second shot of the Pfizer vaccine Monday.
“It’s like a little ray of hope,” she said.
“We keep doing our job because we love taking care of people. And if the vaccine’s going to help, we’re going to do it. Just like the flu shot.”
Diane Dewar, 59
Diane Dewar is a registered nurse (RN) working nights at Woods Park Care Centre in Barrie, Ont. She’s been an RN for 15 years.
After the Ontario government restricted workers with multiple jobs to one workplace to help stop the spread of COVID-19, Woods Park was short staffed. So Dewar worked 125 hours of overtime in 2020.
She said she “put her hand up right away” when she heard vaccines were available. Dewar got her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Dec. 23 and the second on Jan. 13.
“I just wanted to cry, I felt so relieved,” she said.
The mood has lifted a bit at the home, she said, even though they are still understaffed and have to follow intense protocols to minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19.
“The mood’s better. We’re not as stressed anymore.”
Heidi Chang, 49
Heidi Chang has been a PSW for seven years. She works at Sunset Manor in Collingwood, Ont. and is also a student and a chief union steward for Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Healthcare.
The pandemic has been hard for multiple reasons, she said. First of all, co-workers were “terrified” and hesitant to come into work after a COVID-19 outbreak at Sunset Manor in November.
It’s also been difficult to follow the news, she said, like when the military reported on terrible conditions and understaffing in five homes hit hard by the virus.
“The PSWs are like, ‘We’ve been screaming this for years and nobody listened to us.’ It’s so frustrating,” Chang told HuffPost.
She said Simcoe County, which runs the home, has done a good job of handling the pandemic. She said they immediately said they’d pay staff to stay home for two weeks if they tested positive or had any symptoms of the virus.
Chang received her first Pfizer dose on Dec. 23 and the second on Jan. 12.
“The first thing I feel is very blessed that I was able to be one of the first people to get the vaccine,” she said. “I feel safer going into work every day.”
It’s super important that people get vaccinated.
Heidi Chang, personal support worker
She said felt fine after the first dose, but suffered body aches, a low grade fever, a headache, nausea and chills after her second dose.
“If you feel this, it’s normal. Don’t be scared.”
She said she had no reservations about getting the vaccine.
“I believe in vaccines … I trust the experts and I trust the medical field,” she said.
“It’s super important that people get vaccinated. That’s the only way that we’re going to get on top of this … Not just for your own health, but for those around you and your loved ones.”
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