How Canadians are helping each other amid the COVID-19 outbreak

As governments across the world respond to the spread of the novel coronavirus, individuals have reacted with solidarity, offering support to neighbours within communities and across the country.

COVID-19 support groups, streaming music festivals pop up to give support amid social distancing

Kari Hollend says she created her COVID-19 support group to help those in the film industry. Since then, it's grown to include virtually every kind of support. (Paul Smith/CBC)

As governments across the world respond to the spread of the novel coronavirus, individuals are also taking matters into their own hands by offering support to their neighbours in communities coast to coast.

In Canada, Facebook support groups are popping up throughout the country to give self-isolating neighbours the opportunity to both ask for and offer help. And that's just the start: Others are channelling their positivity into fan clubs for public health officials.

Jane Affleck, a sessional instructor at the University of Prince Edward Island, began her Facebook group, Caremongering - PEI: Response to COVID-19, on Saturday, after noticing a similar group in Halifax.

Within 24 hours, the group had hundreds of members offering each other practical advice and support. Some are  offering to pick up and deliver supplies for seniors and others who can't do it for themselves.

"People have said things like, 'I'm on maternity leave and I have all this time on my hands. If you need anything, let me know,'" Affleck said. "And other people too saying ... 'If you want groceries dropped off or anything else, let me know.'

"It just seems like people are willing to help out in any way they can."

Cape Breton fiddler Ashley MacIsaac said he's organizing "Quarantine Ceilidh" — a streaming music festival — to give musicians a way to make money while still practicing social distancing. (Ashley MacIsaac/Facebook )

Kari Hollend set up a similar group in Toronto, How can I help COVID 19 Toronto. Her original intent was to help people in the film industry, which is specifically hard hit.

A film producer, Hollend said many working in movie production have lost work because of COVID-19. Most productions have "quickly halted," she said, leaving workers scrambling for help.

"It was really random," Hollend said. "I just kind of woke up this morning and was like, 'What can I do?'"

Hollend's group includes work offers and pleas from those searching for help. But it also offers support of all kinds to the general community, just as Affleck's group does. 

The amount of support within the group is astounding, she said.

"In dark times, what's always amazing is to see the solidarity, and people wanting to help each other," Hollend said.

"It's heartwarming to see how people are coming together, working together and trying to support each other the best way they can."

Other support systems have sprung up to fill the gap. After seeing more and more event cancellations for musicians and entertainers, Cape Breton fiddler Ashley MacIsaac says he's responding with a way for them to recover their lost income.

To do that, he organized a "Quarantine Ceilidh" (pronounced Kay-Lee), a streamed music festival, which will give musicians the chance to fundraise without increasing the risk of disease spread within the public.

"Any opportunity for people to hear live music is great, it's just we can't go out in public and do it right now," MacIsaac said. "And as entertainers it's our living ... So it's not only about a healing message, it's about being part of a community. And we can't lose that sense of community."

While that festival is still in its planning stage, MacIsaac says it is expected to go forward on April 1. Performers Bette MacDonald and George Canyon have already signed on to participate, he said.

Health official fan club

Others have shown appreciation not just for grassroots efforts like Affleck's and Hollend's, but for public service officials. British Columbia provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry's daily press briefings have gained a following of not just concerned citizens, but enraptured fans. 

After the B.C. recorded Canada's first COVID-19-related death, Dr. Henry addressed the province in an emotional briefing. Mid-speech, Dr. Henry paused, choking up as — she later said — she thought of how her parents must be worrying about her. That — combined with other memorable moments like asking people to wash their hands "like you've been chopping jalapenos and need to change your contacts" —  have led to the creation of a "Dr. Bonnie Henry Fan Club." 

That account, created only days ago, already has over 3,200 followers.

Support for public officials dealing with COVID-19 response comes alongside increasing efforts to limit transmission, and some positive signs abroad.

 Nearly 74,000 people have recovered from COVID-19 so far, mostly in China, and the vast majority of people recover from the virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.

Meanwhile, local infections in China have been falling significantly since the virus was first discovered. After reporting thousands of new cases per day only a month ago, there were only 10 new deaths and 20 new cases on Sunday.

As Chinese cases drop, the country has also begun aiding Italy to fight its crisis. On Sunday, Italy's foreign minister said China will be sending 150 pulmonary respirators now and more later to help treat seriously ill COVID-19 patients in Italy, the centre of Europe's coronavirus pandemic

With files from Thomas Daigle, The Associated Press, and Reuters