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‘It’s been scary for me’: What it’s like cleaning hospitals in the coronavirus pandemic

This is what it’s like to be a custodian during the COVID-19 pandemic
This is what it’s like to be a custodian during the COVID-19 pandemic

Since the novel coronavirus hit Canada, Tasleema Roberts, 52, hasn’t stopped moving.

A veteran custodian with the environmental services team at the Scarborough Health Network (SHN) in Toronto, Roberts quickly established herself as the calm, cool person you call for “anything and everything” amid the chaos caused by the pandemic.

“I’m kind of like the go-to person,” Roberts said. “I assist my supervisor with anything they need ⁠— whether that’s cleaning a room, taking a patient (elsewhere), tidying up, making sure everybody gets fed.”

READ MORE: What it's like to report the news during the COVID-19 pandemic

Roberts is just one of the millions of frontline workers who has been fighting against COVID-19 across Canada for weeks. For her, supporting her colleagues was always a top priority.

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“A lot of my co-workers were very nervous, so I was kind of (trying) to act like a sounding board for them … and try to talk them out of it,” Roberts said.

An employee of SHN for 15 years, Roberts has complete confidence in her employer when it comes to COVID-19 safety protocols.

Photo courtesy of Tasleema Roberts
Photo courtesy of Tasleema Roberts. Photo courtesy of Tasleema Roberts

“If I’m honest with you, I feel 10 times safer (in the hospital) than I am in (real) life,” Roberts said.

“I only go to the grocery store with my husband, nowhere else. Not even to see my mom.”

As someone who prides herself on being able to support and lift up her colleagues, it was difficult at first to make people feel anything other than fear and frustration.

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Now, Roberts has started to notice a shift in the overall mood at the hospital.

READ MORE: Canadians diagnosed with COVID-19 describe it as 'worse than any flu'

“It’s getting more positive … because I think we’ve been in it for so long, we’re getting used to it and we’re here for each other,” Roberts said.

There was one moment when it was tough for Roberts to remain positive, and that was last weekend in Toronto when thousands descended on Trinity Bellwoods Park with blatant disregard for physical distancing and mask recommendations.

“I totally understand that people are frustrated being at home … I have a son, I know he’s frustrated,” Roberts said. “But that was so many people … that was not good at all.

“It was such a disappointment.”

In an effort to keep her spirits up, Roberts tries to watch the news as little as possible.

“I try not to watch much news during the day because you see certain things and you get sad,” she said.

Photo courtesy of Christina Staggolis
Photo courtesy of Christina Staggolis. Photo courtesy of Christina Staggolis

For Christina Staggolis, a housekeeper at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, the worst part of the pandemic has been not being able to support parents like she usually would.

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“It’s been scary for me … to see how (the virus) affects a lot of families,” she said.

Staggolis knows many of the families at Holland Bloorview by name, and prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, she would offer support with visits to kids and hugs for the parents. Now, the rules prohibit any close contact.

READ MORE: Why do long-term care homes have more coronavirus outbreaks than hospitals?

“Before, (the parents) were allowed to come and visit together … Now, only one can come inside at a time,” Staggolis said.

“The only thing I can do now is … I try to smile.”

Staggolis has become a big part of the experience at Holland Bloorview, and parents have come to rely on her as a friendly face in the halls.

“Many of our families and staff know her by name,” said Ashley Cruz, a spokesperson for Holland Bloorview. “She’s been with us for about seven years and is known for always going above and beyond the call of duty, and continues to do so even during the pandemic.”

READ MORE: What message do leaders send when they break coronavirus rules?

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The images of people in Trinity Bellwoods and elsewhere in the country are upsetting for Staggolis, too.

“That was selfish and wrong. I think (those people) need to come and see what’s going on,” she said.

“All of us are trying so hard … I think seeing what it’s like to (work on the front lines) would change their minds.”

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus.

In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus.

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For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

Meghan.Collie@globalnews.ca