'Don't hide where these cases are': Sister of Sask. woman who died with COVID-19 urges transparency

Eleanor Widdowson, whose sister had COVID-19 when she died, wants the Saskatchewan government to be more transparent about where cases of the illness are in the province.

Alice Grove, 75, died on Saturday morning in North Battleford

Eleanor Widdowson says she's mad at her late sister for not staying home, but she's also angry at the government for not identifying which Saskatchewan cities and towns have COVID-19 cases. (BlurryMe/Shutterstock)

The anger and the hurt cut clear through Eleanor Widdowson's voice.

She's mourning the loss of her sister, Alice Grove, but she's also angry at her.

Grove, 75, died Saturday morning in North Battleford, Sask.

Widdowson said the test results came back positive for COVID-19 one day later. Her sister had multiple health conditions, Widdowson says, but Grove's death certificate lists COVID-19 as one of the reasons for her death.

On Monday, the province announced the first two deaths in Saskatchewan related to COVID-19. The province is not providing identifying information about those people, and so did not confirm that Grove was one of those two people.

Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer, declined to say where the two died, citing privacy as the reason.

When identifying COVID-19 cases in Saskatchewan, provincial officials indicate the region where the case was identified, and a broad age range — but not the specific location, or other identifying factors.

Grove had been alone and widowed for 20-some odd years and life on her farm was a little lonely for her, Widdowson said. That meant she often travelled into town to socialize. 

"She was a very social person and I think that's what got her into all this trouble." 

Widdowson said that before her sister got sick, she was still going into the city for coffee and visits. That's where the anger comes from. But some of that anger is also directed at the government. 

Alice Grove was 75 years old when she died in hospital with COVID-19. Her sister wants the government to be more specific about where cases are in the province. (Submitted by Eleanor Widdowson)

She believes her sister would have acted more cautiously, had she been told COVID-19 was present in North Battleford.

But Widdowson wants to speak out because she fears for the safety of her community members. 

Shahab repeated a message spread by public health officials: that people should be acting as though the coronavirus is everywhere, no matter what community they live in. 

But "that's not old people's way of thinking," Widdowson said, adding people like her sister are inclined to keep going for coffee and shooting the breeze with their friends if they aren't aware of an immediate risk. 

"The government should be telling the people what cities, what towns [have COVID-19 cases]. I don't care about the nosy old biddies that want to know who the hell has it," she said.

"God, it's — you don't want to go losing five or six old people all in the same family."

Widdowson says it's hard enough losing one person. 

She described her late sister as someone who was usually happy and who went to church every Sunday she could. Grove loved her great-nieces and nephews, animals and nature.

Grove never had children of her own, but Widdowson said her own two daughters loved spending time with her, as did their children. 

"It's going to be a big hole," she said. "It's not going to be the same without her around." 

The sisters met up in person for the last time on March 13 for coffee and muffins. While they chatted on the phone several times after, Widdowson never saw her sister again.

She said she doesn't want other people to feel the loss and anger that she does, so she's calling on the province to be more open about the location of coronavirus cases.

"Don't hide shit — don't hide where these cases are." 

The government had not — and still has not — identified a COVID-19 case in North Battleford.

As of Tuesday, it had no plans to release the names of communities that have COVID-19 cases in them. 

Widdowson has made arrangements to have her sister cremated.

"We can't see her to say goodbye," she said, sighing through tears. "But it's safer."