A Winnipeg nurse who tested positive for COVID-19 shortly after losing her mother to the virus is pleading with Manitobans to take the pandemic seriously.
Jenn Lambert’s 80-year-old mother, Elizabeth Olah, died just days after testing positive for COVID-19 earlier this month.
Lambert says she wants to share her family’s story to bring some perspective to the otherwise nameless list victims of the virus read off at daily press conferences, and help Manitobans understand the real impact of COVID-19.
“I didn’t want people to think that just because she was 80 … that she would just be a statistic,” Lambert said this week.
“My mom still had a lot of life to live.”
Olah, who was living in an assisted living facility, first started showing symptoms of COVID-19 at the end of October. Lambert says her mom went for testing Nov. 2, got the positive result back Nov. 7, and died in hospital two days later.
As geriatric nurse, Lambert says she’s had years of experience dealing with the end of life, but that didn’t make losing her mother any easier.
”The thing that I found the hardest was just not being able to touch my mom’s hand,” she said.
“Had I known at the time that I was positive I would have just said to hell with it and taken the glove off and touched my moms hand.”
After testing positive for the virus herself, and going through two weeks in self-isolation, Lambert says she’s now feeling better, although the time away from her family — she has two kids aged 11 and 13 — was difficult, especially so soon after losing her mother.
And it was already a hard year for the family.
Lambert’s father, Frank Olah, died in May. While he didn’t have COVID-19 Lambert says the pandemic played a role in his death.
“I think the isolation really got to him,” she said.
“There’s no doubt in my mind … that the emotional aspect for seniors … is making people become more ill much sooner and pass away much sooner.”
After all her family has been through, Lambert says it makes her angry to hear about people flouting public health orders to stay at home.
“We’re all burned-out and we’re struggling through this while some people think it’s OK to just get together and have parties,” she said.
“That’s the frustrating part of it.”
Manitoba has been reporting hundreds of new COVID-19 cases and multiple deaths every day for more than a month.
Despite strict public health orders put in place across the province closing non-essential businesses and banning gatherings, it appears not all Manitobans are getting the message.
On Tuesday, as health officials announced 476 new COVID-19 cases and 12 additional deaths, the province said nearly 100 tickets were issued last week to people and businesses not following the health orders.
One person was fined in relation to a church service held Sunday outside of Steinbach, and more tickets in relation to the service are expected, the province said.
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said 16 tickets stemming from an anti-mask protest in Steinbach on Nov. 14 were also issued, and another 28 tickets — worth $298 each — were handed out in the last week to people for not wearing masks in indoor public places.
Lambert says it’s time for Manitobans to come together to stop the virus from spreading further and prevent more families from losing loved ones.
“It’s scary to think of where we’re going to be if we don’t get a grip on this,” Lambert said.
“Yes, we want to see our loved ones; yes, we want to get together for drinks with the girls; yes, we want our kids to get together. But what are we going to be left with if we don’t get ourselves out of this dumpster fire that we’re in right now?”
— With files from Marney Blunt and The Canadian Press
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 some provinces and municipalities across the country, masks or face coverings are now mandatory in indoor public spaces.
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