Better late than never? Not a chance
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For Holly Morris, “disappointed” doesn’t begin to describe how she felt when she recently tested positive for COVID-19.
She’s among the Manitobans who managed to avoid the virus for more than two years before becoming infected.
The Free Press spoke to four people who took precautions to stay healthy, especially during peaks that saw large numbers fall ill, and recently contracted coronavirus.
Some admit they were resigned to getting infected after the province lifted its public-health orders — including a face-mask mandate — in March, when Premier Heather Stefanson heralded a “new normal.”
Many Manitobans have lowered their guards since mandates ended; mask use, for example, has drastically declined in public places, and vaccine uptake has slowed.
Heading into fall and winter, when viruses are more common, Canadian health officials are concerned about waning immunity from previous doses of a vaccine or infection, with some people receiving their last booster many months ago.
While the provincial response level sits at “limited risk,” the four who recently become COVID “first-timers” offered a similar message to the public: the virus is still circulating and the pandemic isn’t over yet.
Here are their stories.
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Murray Moman did his best to avoid COVID-19, but he felt it was only a matter of time before he tested positive for the virus.
That day came Sept. 15, although it wasn’t preceded by the traditional signs.
After suffering gastrointestinal symptoms, Moman, a business administration instructor at RRC Polytech, started to feel unwell at work.
The 58-year-old Winnipegger left early to take a rapid test at home.
“Within about 10 seconds, it showed I was positive,” he said.
His fatigue worsened and his senses of smell and taste vanished over the weekend.
“On the Friday and Saturday, I was wiped out,” said Moman. “On Sunday, I could be upright for maybe 10 to 15 minutes, but then I’d have to sit down.
“The biggest issue for me is the energy levels. I can deal with the loss of taste and smell and the tummy issues, but it’s the lack of energy that sucks.”
Moman, who was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, continued to be cautious in public after the province scrapped its health orders. His thyroid was removed in April, and he was later declared cancer-free.
He still wears a mask in certain situations, including crowded places at work and elsewhere. He and many of his colleagues returned to in-person instructing when the new school year began in late August.
Most RRC Polytech programs had been conducted via virtual instruction since March 2020.
Moman has had four doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, receiving his most recent booster at the end of May. He credits the shots for his mild case of the virus.
“I’m lucky it hasn’t been severe, but it’s enough that I’m just not right,” he said.
He was relieved when he finally tested negative Thursday. His partner continued to test negative while his results were positive.
“We did have that feeling we’re going to get it at some point,” said Moman. “We’re hearing a lot of people getting it right now. We just know from social media.”
He feels Manitoba’s approach isn’t different from what other jurisdictions are doing.
“Everybody seems to have put their hands up and said, ‘You’re on your own and good luck,’” he said.
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After being COVID-positive for more than a week, Holly Morris has a message for Manitobans who think the pandemic is over.
“I just want people to know (the virus) is still out there, and it’s still serious,” said the 53-year-0ld Winnipegger, who tested negative Thursday. “You can avoid this virus. It can be done, but you have to work hard to do that.”
Morris was upset with herself when she received her first positive result Sept. 13, a day after her initial symptoms appeared.
“I had spent so long keeping myself and my husband safe,” she said.
She dutifully followed public-health orders and avoided taking risks to protect her vulnerable 64-year-old husband, James Kulson, who died in August after being diagnosed with a terminal illness.
The grieving woman let her guard down when she visited a friend for support earlier this month.
Morris said she had a sore throat two days after her friend developed coronavirus symptoms.
She soon became congested and had “zero” energy or appetite.
“I had incredible body aches, almost like your bones hurt,” said Morris, who still has a cough.
Later, she developed shortness of breath.
“If I did anything that exerted myself, I would get a sharp pain in my chest,” said Morris, who received her fourth dose of a vaccine in the spring.
Her biggest fear is having long COVID, after reading stories about people who are still suffering many months later.
She doesn’t think Manitobans are being given enough information or data to make informed decisions about personal risk.
“The messaging has changed. It’s gone from, ‘We’re all in this together,’ to, ‘You’re on your own,’” she said.
Morris doesn’t believe everyone is going to get it eventually.
“I certainly hope not,” she said. “(For me), it was always, ‘I should do everything in my power to keep myself from getting it.’”
That includes wearing a mask in public. She wishes more Manitobans would do the same.
“I don’t want to risk getting it again, because who knows what the cumulative effects will be?” she said. “Please wear your masks when you’re out and about. Just try to keep other people safe. I don’t think it’s too much to ask.”
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After suffering a heart attack at the start of the pandemic, Robert Nykoluk became extremely careful about protecting himself and his wife from the virus.
When the retiree tested positive for the first time in mid-August, he was “a little scared,” given his age and risk factors.
Nykoluk, 74, said being quadruple-vaccinated and taking Paxlovid, Pfizer’s oral antiviral medication, helped limit the severity of his symptoms.
“My thought is, it definitely made my symptoms milder,” he said.
Nykoluk and his wife Susan received positive rapid test results after she started feeling weak and dizzy.
He, too, thought a positive test was inevitable.
“If you’re out and about, you’re bound to get it,” he said.
Also quadruple-vaccinated, his wife had “classic” symptoms, including a cough, tightness in her chest and difficulty breathing.
His symptoms weren’t as bad.
Both were prescribed Paxlovid, after speaking to their family doctor.
In January, Health Canada authorized the treatment for mild to moderate cases in adults who are at high risk of serious disease.
The Winnipeg couple took three pills twice a day for five days.
The only downside from ingesting the tablets, said Nykoluk, was the “horrible, rotten taste” left in their mouths, which is a common side effect of the treatment.
Two days after their final dose, the Nykoluks tested negative. They did another round of testing, just to be safe, before spending time with others over the Labour Day long weekend. Both tested negative.
Like Morris, Nykoluk said the pandemic isn’t over, and Manitobans who want to take extra precautions aren’t being supported.
“People want to keep themselves safe, but they don’t have the data,” he said.
Almost a month after his brush with the virus, Nykoluk is feeling some “brain fog,” but he admits he doesn’t know if it’s due to COVID-19 or getting older.
Reflecting on the last two-plus years, he’s disappointed with the conspiracy theories and false information spread online.
“I’m actually afraid of what this is doing to our society,” he said. “Listen to the scientists. Get the vaccine.”
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A two-week bout with COVID-19 was unlike anything Jason Hooper had ever experienced.
He’s urging Manitobans not to take the virus lightly.
“That’s as sick as I think I’ve ever been,” said the Winnipegger, who had his fourth vaccine dose on his 50th birthday in July.
The West End Cultural Centre executive director’s first symptom was a scratchy throat on Aug. 22, after returning home from a work-related trip to Churchill.
A rapid test returned a positive result that night, leaving him disappointed after avoiding coronavirus for so long.
“I was pretty upset about it the first little while,” he said, noting he continued to take precautions in his personal and professional lives after public-health orders were lifted.
He soon developed a fever — which finally broke after about two days — and was so exhausted he was sleeping about 14 hours a day.
“It was bad, between the fever, headaches and just the constant fatigue and exhaustion,” said Hooper, whose wife tested negative. “It was really unpleasant.”
He was also prescribed Paxlovid, Pfizer’s oral antiviral medication prevent a more serious outcome.
Despite testing negative, Hooper still felt fatigued. Another rapid test was positive while symptoms lingered.
He believes he was finally virus-free Sept. 4, although he continued to feel exhausted last week.
Still feeling some effects, this is his first full week back at work. He doesn’t think he’ll be ready to exercise again for another couple of weeks.
He believes the virus can be avoided if there is a wider effort to reduce its spread.
“Life is still doable with precautions, but if nobody else is taking those precautions your odds of getting sick keep going up,” he said.
It’s difficult to convince Manitobans to keep taking precautions when the province’s message is, “it’s OK to get the virus,” he said, citing a comment made by deputy chief provincial public health officer Dr. Jazz Atwal during a Sept. 2 press conference while explaining infection builds natural immunity.
He said Manitoba is seeing fewer severe outcomes because Omicron isn’t as aggressive as previous variants and the province’s vaccine uptake has been “good.”
As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.