The Faces of the Fight Against COVID-19

Frontline heroes, sideline supporters. we thank you.

By Sabrina Jonas

Montrealers are fighters by nature. That much is obvious. We withstand grueling winters, dodge potholes for our lives, and no one knows tenacity like a Habs fan. It's in our blood, much like our joie de vivre. So, when the novel coronavirus began ravaging our province, it's no wonder our frontline healthcare workers, essential service workers and citizens alike sprang into action to join the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. But it's proven to be an uphill battle, to say the least.

Touted as a tourist hotspot come springtime, Montreal instead became the hotspot for COVID-19 cases and continues its reign as the epicentre for the virus in Quebec and Canada. This makes the ways in which our community has stepped up — individuals, businesses, institutions, manufacturers, frontline healthcare workers, essential service workers — all the more altruistic and irrefutably Canadian

Community extending hope and help

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. As trite as it sounds, the thousands of rainbows plastered across our city paint a picture of hope, compassion and community unmatched by a thank you card. They display brightly the gratitude felt across the board for those actively keeping our city going amid the pandemic and those battling the virus themselves.

This was just the catalyst to the benevolence felt across our province over the past three months. Despite social distancing measures, our people have come together to help those most vulnerable to the virus

There are those who offered to go grocery shopping for our seniors. This small act of kindness quickly turned into initiatives all over Quebec, from "Grocery Programme NDG"; "Les jeunes à l'action", a school initiative near Quebec City; and myriad Facebook groups in almost every Montreal neighbourhood all dedicated to connecting the most vulnerable with volunteers ready to help out. I bet a few of you are even reading this right now.

Naturally, when the shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) made headlines, Montrealers kicked into maskmaking mode. Local groups on Facebook began manufacturing masks and donating fabric; "Army of Masks", a grassroots virtual organization of volunteers sewed and donated "DIY" units all across North America; even 16-year-old Avril Hernandez from the South Shore donated some of her proceeds from selling the masks she sewed to local food banks. Tens of thousands of masks were manufactured and distributed across our province by volunteers right here in our city

When e-learning came into play, the adaptability of our schoolteachers and students was astounding. This, according to headmaster Michel Lafrance who has seen first-hand the success distance learning can be when both teachers and students put in the work. But one teacher acknowledged that effort wasn't the only thing hindering some students' success: it was their lack of access to technology. That's why Ismaël Seck, a special needs teacher at Lucien-Pagé, a high school which serves students from predominantly low-income Montreal neighbourhoods, reached out across social media for donations of computers, laptops, tablets and monitors to give to his students in need. Without a driver's license, Ismaël collected the donations by bike! Thankfully he's now organized a group of 10 volunteers to help out.

There are numerous accounts of kindness flooding our city in this collective fight against COVID-19: groups that organize dropoff points for unused medical supplies; a grassroots campaign to raise money to buy air conditioners for seniors in CHSLDs; innumerable donations to food banks, homeless shelters, and local hospital foundations; Zoom concerts for those isolated alone; free online gym and yoga sessions from trainers. I'm happy to note how difficult it is to try and encompass all our community's humanitarian aid from people like you and me.

Local companies and manufacturers shift gears to give back

This time of year, Montrealers would normally be lounging on terraces with a pitcher of beer overindulging in spinach dip. But, as restaurants, retail stores, companies and manufacturers had to close their doors and halt production, some local businesses took it upon themselves to give back to their community

Lord William or "Montreal's neighbourhood pub" located in Griffintown donated meals to Montreal General Hospital (MGH) and offered staff meals at discounted rates for unemployed restaurant industry employees as well as healthcare workers. SudWest Gyros & Co. in Saint-Henri found themselves in a similar situation, taking to social media to ask people to help their restaurant donate meals to three local organizations: Head and Hands, Sun Youth and Share the Warmth.

Even Canadiens defenceman Jeff Petry and his wife, Julie, joined in on the philanthropic fun. They opened a $2,500 tab at both Notre-Boeuf-de-Grace in NDG and Mandy's in Westmount to provide free meals for healthcare workers. Throughout the pandemic, several other Canadiens stepped up to lend assistance to our frontline heroes. Carey and Angela Price partnered with the Jewish General Hospital Foundation's Hero Project to help feed frontline workers. Other stars like Brenden Gallagher, Nick Suzuki and Victor Mete also helped provide food to staff at MGH and other local hospitals across the city.

Initiatives like "Merci Meal MTL" out of McGill and "Feed the Heroes MTL" all had the same mandate: keeping our frontline workers well-fed so they had the strength and energy to continue being... well, heroes.

On the manufacturing front, Canadian multinational manufacturer of planes and trains, Bombardier Inc. was forced to pump the brakes on transportation production. Regardless of its own uncertainty in the aerospace industry amid the pandemic, the Montreal-based company began producing thousands of units of PPE for frontline healthcare workers such as visors, ventilators and masks that are being used in Canada and across the globe. Bombardier volunteered its planes for humanitarian and medical transport and donated thousands of their unused N-95 masks, gloves and Tyvex suits to medical communities in both Ontario and Quebec. Furthermore, the J. Armand Bombardier Foundation donated over $600,000 to support medical research and help non-profit organizations continue their missions.

Bauer Hockey, top manufacturer of ice hockey equipment with an innovative centre in Blainville, also began manufacturing medical-grade face shields for frontline healthcare workers, garnering over 700,000 orders since March. Now, it's easy to be a Montreal Canadiens fan knowing the skates they glide on are manufactured by a company that gives back

Medtronic, a medical device company, is committed to producing and distributing products that can help COVID-19 patients. This includes ventilators, pulse oximeters, and life support products. They're working directly with hospitals and governments to get their products where they are needed most, here and around the world.

With a lack of PPE also came a shortage in sanitizer disinfectant. Leave it to the bibulous to put their alcohol to good use! Cirka Distilleries, PUR vodka, BluePearls Distillery and even Labatt cut the booze production cold turkey. Instead, they began manufacturing antiseptic gel to be distributed to Montreal's most at-risk population like homeless shelters and health centres.

Local clothing manufacturers like Montreal-based brand Tristan is making medical visors; Gildan is making masks. Canada Goose and Logistik Unicorp are producing medical gowns. And there are countless other companies powering through their financial uncertainty to help those in need. The struggle would be insurmountable without these contributions.

According to a new study by McGill University and University of Toronto researchers, the COVID-19 pandemic has united Canadians more than any other event in decades. While acknowledging good Samaritans and people joining forces is important, glossing over the situation is to ignore the demand for government accountability. Community solidarity is a great thing, but let's ask ourselves why we've needed to step up to the plate in the first place. It's not wrong to acknowledge the government's shortcomings during this pandemic in regard to its lack of emergency preparedness, insufficient financial support for vulnerable Canadians, overcrowded hospitals and abhorrent conditions in CHSLDs.

Seniors in long-term care homes and private seniors' residences across the province account for more than 80 per cent of deaths related to COVID-19 in Quebec. The conditions in which much of our senior population was left in these understaffed facilities are unacceptable. The pandemic has shone a light on the already-known fundamental inequities in our society with respect to conditions in senior's homes and racial health and wealth.

According to an analysis by CBC News, Montreal's poorest and most racially diverse neighbourhoods are disproportionately affected by COVID-19. The Guardian reports that one in five Montrealers infected with COVID-19 is a healthcare worker. And 23 per cent of those infected live in Montreal North, one of the hardest hit neighbourhoods in our city.

To disregard the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic here in Montreal would be a disservice to our readers. The grief, helplessness and pain felt by much of our population does not go overlooked. We grieve with all those who have lost family and friends to this deadly virus and we hope for the recovery of those currently hospitalized.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been ravaging the globe for several months. But those months don't look the same for everyone. For every person remodelling the house and learning how to bake bread, there is an overwhelmed parent lacking job security and a restless child. For every Zoom call with a friend, there is someone grappling with mental health issues caused by isolation.

The magnitude of someone else's problems does not diminish the legitimacy of your own. Even for those of us who have it the easiest, this pandemic has been anything but a walk in the park. Continue to help. Give back. And make taking care of yourself a priority.

Frontline healthcare and essential service workers: Thank you!

There is no telling where our city might be if not for the underpaid and underappreciated frontline healthcare and essential service workers.

Doctors, nurses, orderlies, technicians, administrators, maintenance crews, cleaners, testing site workers, personal support workers — we thank you for your dedication to our loved ones. For the sacrifices you have made to keep our city’s population healthy. For risking your own lives to save ours. For showing courage and determination in the face of a health crisis and a critical shortage of colleagues. Thank you for being our beacon of hope.

Transit workers, grocery store stockers, retail cashiers, pharmacy clerks, gas station attendees, delivery people, baristas, bank tellers, volunteers at homeless shelters and food banks, and all those working minimum-wage jobs with limited to no danger pay. There is no overlooking the way in which you made it possible for others to self-isolate and keep well-stocked with food and supplies

We are alive thanks to our healthcare workers;
we are living thanks to our essential workers!

Read on to get a glimpse of what our healthcare professionals have been doing while we've been isolating, many of us in the comfort of our own homes and with our families. Too many of our heroes don't even have the luxury of being with their families for fear of exposing them to the virus. But without those working in hospitals and at foundations, we wouldn't have COVID wards at the MUHC made possible by the Montreal Chest Institute Foundation, the Pediatric Emergency Mental Health Fund courtesy of the Montreal Children's Hospital Foundation, and medical-grade face shields thanks to the brain trust at The Neuro.

Stay safe

As the province reopens, be wary of eroding the effort we've put into keeping each other safe by means of quarantining and social distancing. We've all been starved of social interaction, but we're not out of the woods yet. Continue those over-the-fence dinners with the neighbours and FaceTime Grandma more often now that she's learned how. Take with you the lessons learned from this pandemic: The value of life, taking good care of mental health, joy in simple pleasures and the healing powers of Mom's hug. Keep those newfound social connections alive and continue helping out long after the pandemic is over. Follow the lesson set in place by our frontline heroes… and pay it forward.


Summer 2020, Vol 12 N°3

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Everyday Heroes

Summer 2020
Vol 12 N°3

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Sabrina Jonas Letter from the Associate Editor

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