Ontario woman with mild COVID-19 says more testing needed now

A young Peterborough, Ont. woman with relatively mild COVID-19 symptoms is calling for more testing to protect vulnerable people from the deadly virus.

Hannah Abrahamse, 20, worries people with mild symptoms could infect others

Hannah Abrahamse took a photo of herself after she was tested for COVID-19 in Orillia, Ont. on April 6. (Hannah Abrahamse)

A young Peterborough, Ont. woman with relatively mild symptoms of COVID-19 is calling for more testing to protect vulnerable people from the deadly virus.

Hannah Abrahamse, 20, was turned away from an assessment centre in Orillia, Ont. twice before she was finally diagnosed with the novel coronavirus. She says she speaking out now about the need to take COVID-19 seriously because she is worried that people with mild symptoms, such as herself, could unknowingly infect others.

"It doesn't look the same for everybody, but you know, one person's mild case is another person's death sentence," she said in an interview with CBC Toronto on Monday.

"If you have symptoms, just take it seriously," she said. "I barely had any symptoms of COVID-19."

Two of her family members are immuno-compromised, and had she not been tested, she said she might have passed it on to them.

"I would never have known that I was sick to begin with and I could have passed this on to them and it could have been very, very bad," she said.

Abrahamse said she returned from England, where she was studying, with another young woman on March 23 and immediately went into isolation at the home of a relative in Orillia, Ont. Her relative went to live with another family member, leaving Abrahamse alone to self-isolate.

Hannah Abrahamse writes on Facebook: 'If you have ANY symptoms at all, assume it is COVID-19. Call your doctor, try to get tested, and self isolate for 2 weeks. Even if you're the only one in your family who is sick.' (Facebook)

In a Facebook post on April 10, she writes: "We did everything right. We wore gloves and masks, we wiped down our seats, we even sat in a row alone. My parents drove to the airport in two cars and left one running for us. From there, we took the car to an empty house and isolated here for two weeks."

She says her symptoms, which surfaced as her two weeks of isolation were ending, were not the typical ones described in reports. 

"I haven't had shortness of breath, a fever, or a cough. I was sure that I was experiencing either allergies or a head cold," she writes.

"I had watery eyes, I was sneezing, I had a bit of a stuffy nose, I felt phlegmy, had headaches (but I get migraines so I didn't even count them as a symptom), and there were a few days last week that I felt a bit achy, but that would come and go."

But the symptoms didn't go away. And with both her brother and mother having compromised immune systems, she said she didn't want to take the chance that it would be COVID-19.

Watch Hannah Abrahamse speak about having COVID-19:

Ontario woman with COVID-19 calls for more testing


8 months agoVideo
Hannah Abrahamse, 20, says people should take COVID-19 seriously. 2:10

In the interview, Abrahamse said she knew she should be tested.

"I just had this feeling in my gut, you know, what if I I have it and I don't know and I bring it home to my family. I wouldn't have been able to live with myself," she said.

In early April, Abrahamse went to the Couchiching COVID-19 Assessment Centre, located next to Orillia Soldiers' Memorial Hospital, where she was told she didn't fit the testing criteria even though she had travelled.

Then she called Telehealth Ontario, which urged her to go back. She went back to the centre and was told it wasn't taking any referrals from Telehealth.

She eventually got a referral from her family doctor, went back to the centre a third time on April 6, and found out a day later that she had tested positive for the virus. 

"I was shocked. I was beyond shocked. Mainly, I was thankful that I hadn't gone home," she said.

Now, Abrahamse says there is an urgent need for more testing.

"I was turned away for testing two times even though I had travel history, so that, I think, is unacceptable."

Hannah Abrahamse, 20, says of COVID-19: 'If you have symptoms, just take it seriously.' (CBC)

Centre says testing reserved for high-risk populations

For its part, the Couchiching COVID-19 Assessment Centre said it cannot discuss details of a patient's care, but said it follows the guidelines set by the Ontario health ministry, which reserves testing for high-risk populations presenting with symptoms, as outlined by public health, that are consistent with a COVID-19 infection.

In a statement on Wednesday, Dr. Kimberley McIntosh, a family physician and medical director of integrated care at Orillia Soldiers' Memorial Hospital, said the assessment centre "eagerly" awaits expanded testing criteria and improved access to testing resources.
"Until such change in criteria, we are requesting the public's support in applying the current criteria to ensure the highest risk patients, such as those residing in long-term care facilities, have appropriate access to testing," she said.

"Currently, patients presenting with mild respiratory symptoms who do not qualify for COVID-19 testing are instructed to remain in self-isolation for 14 days or two days past symptom resolution, whichever is longer, and to return to the hospital if symptoms worsen."

She added: "We would advise against repeated visits to a health-care facility for the sole purpose of testing as the same self-isolation recommendation would still apply if you are symptomatic with or without a positive COVID-19 test and the additional visits could increase the risk of exposure of the public and healthcare providers to COVID-19."

In a statement on Tuesday, the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit said Dr. Charles Gardner, its medical officer of health, "has encouraged all assessment centres to undertake more testing as they are able and has assured them that he fully supports this expansion." 

'The virus is not always a cough and a fever'

On Facebook, Abrahamse writes: "If you have ANY symptoms at all, assume it is COVID-19. Call your doctor, try to get tested, and self isolate for 2 weeks. Even if you're the only one in your family who is sick. I lived with a friend for two weeks and she tested negative for the virus. Even if you normally have allergies. The virus is not always a cough and a fever."

She added in the interview: "It's just strange. I don't feel like I have COVID-19."

The provincial government says it is hoping to increase its testing capacity to 8,000 tests a day by April 15.

A Facebook photo of Hannah Abrahamse with her family before the COVID-19 pandemic. (Facebook)

With files from Natalie Kalata, Muriel Draaisma