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COMMENTARY: How coronavirus launched a ‘caremongering’ movement

Spirit of York Head Distiller Mark Harrop (left) and founder Gerry Guitor pose with bottles of distillery-made hand sanitizer in Toronto on Wednesday March 18, 2020.
Spirit of York Head Distiller Mark Harrop (left) and founder Gerry Guitor pose with bottles of distillery-made hand sanitizer in Toronto on Wednesday March 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

As the days turns to weeks, the coronavirus pandemic continues to consume us. We don’t know how long this global crisis will last.

Whether it be working at home with kids in tow, dealing with the impacts of a sudden layoff, or forging on in the frontlines at a feverish pace, we are all adjusting to respective new realities. But amid all the uncertainty and chaos, a kindness has emerged.

Normally a rather individualistic society, the novel coronavirus has brought out a sense of community. Ironically, while we are social distancing, we have become more compassionate to those around us — those very same people who mere weeks ago, we may have passed without a glance in our daily grind. We are now not only acknowledging, but also taking care of one another.

READ MORE: Widow of Ontario man, 48, who died from coronavirus speaks out about deadly virus

Don’t be fooled, though. I’m no fool either, and know that when we say, “We’re all in this together,” some of us are not. I see there are heroes and villains in this crisis. I see that this virus has brought out the worst in some people, too — from the hoarders with crates of Lysol and toilet paper to the vile racist and xenophobic behaviour against Asians.

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But this isn’t about them. This is about all the people who are spreading love, not the virus. This is about the people who are making good deeds contagious. Individuals and companies alike are coming together for the greater good.

Just a few short days ago, “caremongering” was something I’d never heard of, because the term didn’t yet exist.

Now, a newly created Facebook group using the moniker has quickly evolved into over 35 local groups serving communities across Canada, including Halifax, Ottawa and Saskatoon, with more than 21,000 members in the Toronto group alone. These groups aim to help those in need and particularly support the most vulnerable and those at greatest risk from COVID-19 within their communities.

Of course, there are our frontline heroes, including the many retired nurses and doctors who have stepped up to the challenge and returned to work, putting their own lives at risk for the sake of their communities. My kultur’D radio show co-host Bee Quammie’s mother is one such hero, among many.

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One of the most vulnerable communities in this pandemic is our elderly. But it is not just their physical well-being at risk; with strict visitor restrictions at retirement and nursing homes, their mental health has been put in a fragile state, with isolation making quiet, empty days feel even lonelier.

The Big Brothers Big Sisters chapter in Oxford County has started a unique penpal program to help keep seniors connected despite a clampdown on visitors. Kids and parents interested in writing letters can contact the organization and become a “PanPal” — a pandemic penpal.

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Many companies have quickly pivoted to provide products needed to fight the spread of the virus. Across the country, independent distilleries are swapping handcrafting spirits for making hand sanitizer in the fight against COVID-19.

Coronavirus: Montreal-area distillers take a break from vodka to help fight COVID-19
Coronavirus: Montreal-area distillers take a break from vodka to help fight COVID-19

Toronto distillery Spirit of York is going a step further, providing its sanitizer to seniors and low-income individuals for free.

“This is about us wanting to do something to rally around our community and help them out in their time of need,” says company founder Gerry Guitor.

Stratford distillery Junction 56, Toronto’s Mill Street Brewery and Calgary’s popular Minhas Brewers are a few of the others making the switch.

The big brewers are bottling good, too. Labatt Breweries of Canada is shifting production from beer to hand sanitizer at some of its factories in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The company announced March 22 it will initially produce 50,000 bottles of hand sanitizer, at five locations across the country that will be donated to Food Banks Canada, frontline workers and restaurants and bars that are remaining open.

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READ MORE: Labatt switching production to hand sanitizer to help fight COVID-19

Beauty is also on board, with Estee Lauder the latest company to switch from cosmetics to hand sanitizer, following beauty and fashion giants L’Oreal and LVMH.

According to WWD, Estee Lauder will be reopening its manufacturing plant in Melville, N.Y., and is planning to provide “hand sanitizer for high-need groups and populations, including front-line medical staff.” The company has also pledged to make a US$2-million grant to Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières, to support the organization’s work in treating the new coronavirus in countries that lack the resources and have been severely impacted.

Canadian hockey equipment manufacturer Bauer is among the companies ready to pivot its production line to make protective visors for doctors, nurses and first responders. Dan Bourgeois, a vice-president at Bauer, says he’s received interest in the proposal from Montreal’s front line of police, firefighters and hospitals.

READ MORE: Bauer Hockey making face shields for coronavirus fight

Every day we hear more about life-saving medical equipment, such as ventilators, that is in short supply.

Dr. Peter Adamson, a professor of facial plastic and reconstructive surgery at the University of Toronto, recognized that the need for ventilators for seriously ill patients would be much higher than what our hospitals have.

He told me that, with the help of colleagues, he reached out to the ministers of health in Ontario and Ottawa to advise them that many private clinics had ventilators that could potentially be borrowed to save more lives.

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“The ministry was unaware of this additional source of ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE),” Adamson says.

Ministry staff embraced the idea and worked with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) to contact clinics to ask for help. Oral and maxillofacial surgeons also offered their support to provide even more ventilators, he says.

“It is hoped that up to 150-200 additional ventilators could be acquired to help save lives and beat back this viral menace. PPE will also be offered, as this is also in short supply,” Adamson says.

Coronavirus: Private cosmetic surgeons coming together lending ventilators to hospitals
Coronavirus: Private cosmetic surgeons coming together lending ventilators to hospitals

Dr. Brian Rittenberg, division head of oral and maxillofacial surgery in the Sinai Health System, sent out a survey last weekend to recruit anesthetic machines that might exist in private “out of hospital” centres around the province.

“These machines can function as ventilators and will help address the potential supply-demand imbalance,” Rittenberg says. “The response to the survey was incredible and resulted in the formation of a working group that is now attempting to rapidly create a registry of these machines. Others have also stepped up to donate ancillary services that will facilitate the use of these machines.”

While the initiative is just getting started and these good doctors have yet to hear back from the various surgeons and clinics so as to know how many ventilators they will ultimately have, the initial response has been very positive from surgeons in facial plastic surgery, plastic surgery and oral and maxillofacial surgery.

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“To me, the best part of this has been seeing how readily so many good people will give up their time and resources without hesitation and come together to help when needed,” Rittenberg says.

Meera Estrada is a cultural commentator and co-host of kultur’D! on Global News Radio 640 Toronto.