Daughter of COVID-19 victim pleads for stricter restrictions as cases surge in southern Alberta

As Tanya Gill watches COVID-19 cases surge in her southern Alberta city, she's reminded of the trauma of December 2020, when she watched her father die in an intensive care bed from the other side of the glass. 

Tanya Gill's father died of COVID-19 in December. She's begging people to wear masks, or stay home

Tanya Gill and her father George Baranec. Gill's father died at age 85 in December 2020, after contracting COVID-19. She's now urging others to take precautions, as cases grow in Lethbridge and surrounding areas of southern Alberta. (Submitted by Tanya Gill)

As Tanya Gill watches COVID-19 cases surge in her southern Alberta city, she's reminded of the trauma of December 2020, when she watched her father die in an intensive care bed from the other side of the glass. 

"For me, there is nothing more real about COVID than watching someone you love die, making eye contact with an absolute angel of a nurse that is doing absolutely everything she can for the people present there, and seeing the grief of my mom and my brother and not being able to be a part of it," she said.

Gill lives in Lethbridge, Alta. The city and surrounding areas have become a hotspot for coronavirus in recent weeks — prompting 40 local doctors to write a letter to the public, urging compliance with health restrictions to prevent ICUs from being overloaded.

'You might survive this but someone you love might not'

Dr. Sean Wilde, an emergency room doctor in the city and primary author of the letter, said cases have nearly doubled from the height of the second wave. 

"We want to be able to care for the people that need care. And if we're overwhelmed, then it becomes … much more difficult to do that," he said. 

Gill is speaking out at the urging of her widowed mom, who is careful about wearing a mask and using hand sanitizer but still contracted the virus, passing it on to Gill's father, George Baranec. 

"Her response was, 'Please tell people to stay home. Please tell people to stay masked. Please tell people to sanitize. Please tell people to start paying attention again,'" she said. 

Baranec's obituary describes him as a soft-spoken man, who despite being hard of hearing was quick to make friends and dole out witty remarks. 

"Those of you who knew George knew he loved good old honky-tonk music, Johnny Cash, and was always up to get moving on the dance floor or around a campfire! He loved his walks and bike rides to the corner with Cash, and an episode of wrAstling (that's how he said it) whenever he could catch one," his obituary reads.

"He loved western movies and stories, and you can almost hear him doing his finger-gun 'ka-POW!' as he then throws his hands into the air."

WATCH | Lethbridge becomes one of Alberta's worst COVID-19 hotspots:

Lethbridge becomes one of Alberta’s worst COVID-19 hotspots

2 years ago
Duration 2:00
Lethbridge is one of the worst COVID-19 hotspots in Alberta, and officials say it's mostly because of social gatherings that break the rules. A Lethbridge woman remembers the pain of witnessing her father's death in ICU, as local doctors raise the alarm.

The trauma of losing her father has translated into fear that coronavirus will hurt someone else Gill loves. She constantly thinks of her kids going to school or work and how they might be exposed. 

She said she's scared every time she sees someone indoors in public without a mask. 

"I want to say to them, you might survive this but someone you love might not … what if you kill your mom, your dad, your sibling," Gill said.

Social gatherings a problem

Dr. Vivien Suttorp, medical officer of health for Alberta's south zone, said while contact tracers are unable to find the origin of many cases — potentially due to the highly infectious variants of concern — those that they can track are coming from inside homes. 

"Most of these, the majority of these, are … social gatherings," she said. 

On Thursday, Alberta Health Services cautioned that attendees at two house parties — one week apart at the same home — will need to be tested, after multiple COVID-19 cases were traced back to one person at the events. 

AHS did not say whether attendees at the events would face repercussions. Indoor social gatherings are against public health orders, with rulebreakers subject to a $1,000 fine. 

It makes me sad that people are feeling potentially safer when they're not.- Tanya Gill

Wilde said if you're experiencing even minor symptoms, such as gastrointestinal distress, it's important to get tested

Gill said her dad didn't exhibit the typical symptoms, such a sore throat or fever, at first. Instead, he was confused and losing his balance — a doctor only tested him for COVID-19 on a whim, because the doctor's mother had experienced similar atypical symptoms. Then, after her dad's positive test, Gill's mom tested positive too.

Gill said she empathizes with people who are no longer taking the pandemic seriously — "we're all sick of it" — even though it saddens her to hear that house parties are happening in her community.

"It makes me sad that people are feeling potentially safer when they're not, and also I empathize … I personally feel that we need a massive lockdown again," she said.

Alberta's government is only providing preliminary COVID-19 data over the Easter long weekend. But as of Friday, there were 864 cases in the south health zone. Another 1,100 new cases were reported province-wide on Friday and again on Saturday — the highest numbers since early January.

Premier Jason Kenney has asked Albertans to abide by current restrictions and not gather indoors.

But, Alberta has not announced any further public health restrictions in light of the third wave of cases.

With files from Carolyn Dunn

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