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Lapasse natives battle COVID-19 together in Kingston

·11 min read

Kingston -- LaPasse natives David and Joanne Gervais, now living in the Kingston area, have been great team members, supporting each other’s careers over 42 years of marriage and before that as teenage sweethearts.

These days they are facing another challenge together: battling COVID-19.

On Monday, October 4, Dave was obeying all the COVID protocols when he entered a major chain store to get supplies for a project he was working on for a customer of a construction company he co-owns and operates with a friend.

“My purchase took approximately 15 minutes,” he said. “In the yard outside, an employee helped me load my materials in my van. My work day proceeded normally, that day and the next.”

On Tuesday after work, Dave felt “something wasn’t quite right.”

“I remained at home the next two days, and made an appointment for a rapid COVID test,” he said. “The results indicated that I was negative. I kept an appointment with a prospective client on Friday. I excused myself early from that meeting as I wasn’t feeling well.”

Dave began experiencing fever of up to 41.5C as well as cough, pressure behind his eyes, and bad sweats. His symptoms continued to worsen over two days.

In the meantime Joanne had also started experiencing some of the same symptoms but a more severe version. Her fever for a brief time approached 44C. She took Advil and within two hours her temperature dropped to 39C, only two degrees above 37 which is considered normal.

“Our temperatures went up and down for a few days,” said Joanne. “Unlike usual flus and colds where temperature goes up, breaks, and then it’s over. This was more erratic and repetitive.”

On Saturday, October 9, Dave booked a PCR test appointment for the next morning (Sunday).

“At the assessment site, the staff were friendly, professional and efficient,” said Dave. “I was out of the clinic in 15 minutes.”

Twelve hours later he had the result: COVID positive.

It was concluded that Joanne was also suffering from COVID. She was having more lung issues than her husband, deeper in her chest. Breathing was painful and difficult. Dave ordered an oxygen sensor to monitor her at home and stayed by her side to be prepared to get her to a hospital if things should worsen. So far that hasn’t been necessary, and the Gervais’ maintain cautious optimism in face of – for now – gradual improvement overall.

“Dave looks like he is on his way to a full recovery,” says Joanne. “I still have to watch the oxygen levels and lung recovery. We will see if any long term effects occur as time goes on.”

Initially the Gervais’ had no clue how they had been infected. Then on Wednesday, the Kingston Frontenac Lennox and Addington (KFL&A) Health Unit issued an advisory confirming a COVID-19 Case at Maple Country Home & Farm Limited in Inverary, the business Dave had visited on October 4, recommending that individuals who visited the business on Monday, October 4 through to Saturday October 10 self-monitor for symptoms for 10 days from their last visit at this business.

“We recommend all individuals affected by this exposure go for testing even if you do not have symptoms,” said the advisory. “If symptoms develop, please seek testing and self-isolate.”

Joanne said contact tracing was very effective in locating everyone involved and limiting what could have been an even nastier outbreak.

“The contact tracing was greatly assisted as I have accurate bank and business records,” said Dave. “I had the contact information for tradesmen that had been at our renovation site, and for clients that I have met. The public nurse conducting the contact tracing discovered the connection with the major chain construction store. This outbreak involved several older fully vaccinated individuals, and some unvaccinated people. It has infected at least 13 people and disrupted the lives of dozens who had to get tested, miss work, and worry; also medical staff hours, huge stress and disruption to the businesses it affected.”

As of Friday, October 15, Joanne reported that Dave was doing very well.

“He has lost weight, but is getting his energy back,” she said. “He is still sweating profusely when working. I am doing better also, but not as well as he is yet, as I was infected a few days later. Right now I have some unexpected symptoms which still include weakness, a lot of dizziness and wonky eyesight. Bit of parallax (a displacement or difference in the apparent position of an object viewed along two different lines of sight) which makes judging distance a challenge and makes for interesting walks about the house and watching the floor wave about.

“All our own contacts came back negative,” she said. “So from Dave, it was limited transmission to me.

“Dave and I are still talking, but I look at him suspiciously every time he sneezes,” she quipped.

Back In Carpentry After Retiring As A Science Teacher

Dave is retired from a 30-year career as a science teacher. After he retired he reverted to the carpentry and other construction skills he had learned from working with tradesmen in the LaPasse community as a young man. When he got bored with fixing things around the house he started working in renovations and construction, something he did summers since he was a teenager.

“My current business partner is a skilled licensed carpenter and graduate from industrial design,” he said. “How lucky I have been to be able to continue working on extensive renovations and new builds as I gently get older.”

COVID restrictions had caused the business partners to re-evaluate how they worked.

“I used to work on one project while he worked on another,” he said. “When we hired our first employee, we began to work as a small group of three on the same job. We all became double vaccinated, wore masks in retail stores and respected social distance rules.”

Joanne said the number of cases – at the time of this writing 13 -- in this particular outbreak “stunned” them.

“We we were expecting only four or five,” she said. “Our own contacts have all tested negative so far, but it was a few days before Dave tested positive after the initial negative rapid test. His diligence kept things from spreading on our end. But we still look at things more critically now and would have been even more careful, given what we know now. We definitely are not out of the woods yet (with this pandemic), and the government of Ontario needs to reinforce that message.”

For now, given her continuing visual disturbances, work is out of the question for Joanne, who has been working as a professional visual artist since 1998, when knee and shoulder injuries ended her career in playing, refereeing and coaching sports, which she did as well as operating a silkscreen business.

“I was in recovery for a year after multiple surgeries and told that if I continued to play I would not be walking in five years,” she said. “Arthritis complicated things. One of the reasons I switched to the arts, which offered flexibility in hours and options in ways of working,

standing as opposed to sitting.

“I needed to find new work, and after doodling and painting to pass the time during recovery I decided to try painting as a career.”

To date she has created over 8,000 paintings, drawings, fine crafts and graphic designs. Among the many expressions of her talents is her work as an on-site live events sketch artist, at venues such as court trials, theater, music festivals, conferences, etc.

“Recently I live-sketched at a festival with 5,000 people, of whom the huge majority were vaccinated. No outbreaks in the whole festival. It was a bit older crowd, and being out of the city, you needed a car to get there, so a different group of people. I was tested the day after in case and was negative. But Dave and I have been working downtown this last while and have been more exposed to different people. You just cannot let your guard down at any time.”

Vaccination Prevented Worse Situation

The Gervais’ consider themselves very fortunate to have been vaccinated. She recalls the fear when her temperature hit close to 44° and breathing became more of an issue and hospitalization became a real possibility.

“I still cannot understand people willing to risk getting COVID which is life threatening and can certainly be life changing if it becomes long-haul, instead of getting vaccinated. We can educate and relay the facts and hope that truth and common sense will prevail.”

The health unit continues to check up on them and to record symptoms.

“It’s important to cooperate with this data collecting, as that is how we will learn how to cope with the virus and to help people in the future.”

Dave agrees their vaccination prevented this from being a much more serious illness for them.

“But the vaccine efficacy in older people drops as time goes on and they become vulnerable again.”

Joanne is 64; Dave is 66.

“Everyone needs to be vaccinated,” said Dave. “The rapid test has limitations. The PCR test is the gold standard.”

While they are truly grateful about the improvement in their COVID symptoms to date, the future is still uncertain.

“My biggest fear is that COVID will cause further damage to my respiratory system which is already compromised,” Joanne said. “I have a couple of people I know who have had truly nightmarish experiences with long-haul COVID, among them elite athletes who are seriously limited now due to lung damage.”

The atelier classes Joanne has hosted for over 25 years straight until they were put on hold for the first time ever in early 2020 due to the pandemic had just started again.

“They are once again on hold since my COVID positive diagnosis. All my commissions are also on hold till my eyesight returns to normal and I have the energy to focus and work.”

Those who insist that measures to prevent the spread of COVID “don’t work” test Joanne’s patience.

“Everything is based on viral load,” she said. “Masks help to reduce the spread. Vaccines help to reduce the effects and spread. Distance lowers the exposure to an infected person's breathing and virus load. Everyone in our circle, who are all diligent in following all protocols, were tested negative. Masks help vaccines work, keeping your distance works, getting tested works, hand washing works, and all together it can stop the pandemic. But throw into that mix one unvaccinated, untested, plague carrier who goes about mixing with unsuspecting, vulnerable people and it does not work 100 per cent anymore.

“The Delta variant is highly contagious with more extreme symptoms. We need to follow all the protocols all the time and if you insist on not getting vaccinated, then get tested every couple of days. Infected unvaccinated staff exposed people for six days to a very contagious and dangerous virus. Shoot enough bullets something will penetrate, and that is what happened here. Wearing a mask is a hell of a lot easier than going through the miserable effects of COVID which for some of us is life threatening.

“We must remember this is all new to us and to those who work to protect us. It is only by following their advice, especially considering that it is the medical and scientific community that work directly with this virus, that the rest of us are safe.”

She said non-compliance by a few puts others at greater risk.

“Something that works partly is better than nothing at all. ‘Nothing’ would have meant a suffocating death for me. Instead I will just be rather ill for several days. The vaccine was not 100 percent, but I appreciate the better odds it gave me. In poker that would be called a full house and a good hand to gamble with.”

Joanne has advice for the naysayers.

“Spend your time encouraging people to follow all the guidelines. This is a war against a powerful changing deadly enemy. A multi-pronged approach is necessary and every time someone decides they know better and do not follow the leaders’ strategies a battle is lost.”

She understands why the name of the “ground zero” carrier cannot be released.

“Too high a chance of a lynching occurring, especially if this person was negligent, i.e. non- vaxxed,” she said. “But we are Canadians and we are a forgiving sort, as long as a lesson is learned and behaviour is modified.”

She notes there have been only a few outbreaks that are not student-related in Kingston.

“This has really shown how much farther we still have to go to call this over,” she said. “Not sure about the wave thing; it is just one big pandemic with ups and downs generally caused by our own human behavior, starting with the delay in calling the pandemic in late 2019, allowing March break travel, opening too soon, being the nice trusting Canadians that we are and still allowing international travel, not enforcing the passport earlier, etc.

“Maybe a bit of suffering is the price of trusting people to do the right thing first before bringing the hammer down. If I remember history, the hammer was needed to stop smoking in public places, to curb drinking and driving, to enforce seat belts, etc.”

Marie Zettler, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader

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