Ottawa

Holiday gatherings a personal choice, but could have consequences, expert says

Although Christmas is still two weeks away, a Belleville, Ont., resident has cancelled plans to travel to Ottawa to visit family after seeing rising COVID-19 case numbers and not wanting to re-live the harrowing experience she had last year, when she ended up in hospital being told she may not make it.

Veronica Leonard cancels plans, so she doesn't relive COVID-19 hospitalization

Veronica Leonard documented her time in hospital and the weeks that followed after contracting COVID-19 over the holidays last December. (Submitted by Victoria Leonard)

Although Christmas is still two weeks away, Veronica Leonard has cancelled plans to travel from Belleville Ont., to visit family in Ottawa after seeing rising COVID-19 case numbers and not wanting to relive the harrowing experience she had last year, when she ended up in hospital being told she may not make it.

Cases of the illness, suspected to be driven by the Omicron variant, are rising across the province, especially in the Kingston, Ont., area, which is smashing local records and leading all other public health units across Ontario with the worst COVID-19 rate per 100,000 people.

Leonard, 72, spent 10 distressing days in hospital after contracting COVID-19 at a small family gathering last year.

"On my first night there, the doctor asked if I wanted to sign a Do Not Resuscitate order. Suddenly I realized, this is serious. This isn't just, you know, we'll look after you and you're going to go home, it was you could die," she said.

She spent her time planning her own funeral and calling her three adult children to say her final goodbyes.

This year, fully vaccinated, she made the decision to choose her, her family and community's safety above gathering when she saw the surging numbers.

"There are people who have their shots who are going into hospital. I can't do that again."

Health officials, including the province's chief medical officer of health Dr. Kieran Moore, are hinting that provincewide restrictions could be coming this week.

"It's not going to be a normal holiday gathering," said Dr. Doug Manuel, a senior scientist with The Ottawa Hospital who tracks local COVID-19 numbers.

"Think about people that you're seeing and kind of act like they might be infected already,' he said.

While he said he's not telling people whether they should or should not get together with family and friends over the holidays, he warned people to think carefully about their decision given the rapid spread of virus and the effect their actions could have on others.

'Ask yourself, in a worst case scenario, if I get sick and then I pass it on to someone else, how does that align with your values? Are you OK with that or not?' said Dr. Doug Manuel. (Submitted by Dr. Doug Manuel)

"Collectively, we need to look into our values of what we want to do during the holidays to protect others around us," he said.

"But I will tell you there's going to be people in vulnerable communities that are affected from this and die, and that if we work together as a community, that will be less."

For Leonard, she plans to spend this Christmas virtually, holding a dinner over Zoom.

"We'll be closer being together that way than sitting around a table with a mask on."

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