Last month, an immunocompromised man in Thunder Bay, Ont., who had feared the consequences of relaxed public health measures, died after testing positive for COVID-19.
Joe Lunn, a heart transplant recipient, told CBC News in March that he was concerned about the Ontario government’s decision to get rid of vaccine certificates in public.
He also expressed concerns about his plans to end mask mandates, saying he feels safer in public when others are also taking precautions against the spread of the virus.
“I struggled so hard to stay alive that I gave up because you are bothered by a four-by-four-inch piece of cloth,” he said at the time.
I feel like the immunocompromised people as we keep moving through this keep getting closer and closer to the fear of death.– Michelle Burley, founder of the Facebook Group
His sister, Vierlin Lun, said Lun spent much of 2022 in health battles, including signs of organ rejection.
Although his contacts were limited to two family members involved in providing home care and cardiac rehabilitation, Lunn tested positive for the virus on a PCR test for which he was required to undergo cardiac rehabilitation, Vierlyn said.
“He wasn’t feeling well at first that day,” she said of the day he got the call about the results.
“And then by that evening…He told my mother, he couldn’t breathe….My older sister took him out, and he spent two days outside. On the morning of the third day, they sent him to the intensive care unit. By five, he had passed away” .
Lun was 51 years old.
“When things are [pandemic restrictions] It was lifted … the mentality I found for a lot of people – they just wanted their lives to get back to normal, and it didn’t matter who it affected in the long run,” Wehrlein said.
She will remember her brother as a smart, funny, loving and sympathetic man who was a wonderful talker.
The group wants more protection
Some immunocompromised people fear contracting COVID-19, and more needs to be done to slow the spread of COVID-19, said Michelle Burley, founder and co-director of the Facebook group, Immunocompromised People Are Not Consumers.
“I feel like people who are immunocompromised as we keep moving through this keep getting closer and closer to the fear of death,” Birlay said.
She said the government doesn’t seem to consider the safety of people at risk in its decision-making process, which is driving the number of COVID cases too high, and the relative lack of data collection is pushing people to act more carelessly.
Burley believes people should still wear masks in places like grocery stores and pharmacies that were considered essential during the early stages of the pandemic and difficult for vulnerable people to avoid.
But Dr. Ligan Parks, an infectious disease specialist and medical microbiologist at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal, said it was time for the community to voluntarily take charge of protecting the vulnerable.
Evidence is that blanket masking and staying home while sick reduces the spread of the virus, Parks said, but it makes sense to stop obligating them once most people are vaccinated or infected.
“We have to get back to that sense of normalcy,” she said.
It also makes sense for the government to drop certificates of the vaccine once it becomes clear that people who have been vaccinated can still transmit COVID-19, she said.
But Parks said that scrapping government measures to control the spread of viruses like COVID creates an imperative for society to follow public health guidelines.
She pointed to parts of Asia that have previously dealt with SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and bird flu as part of a culture of respecting wearing masks when respiratory viruses spread, staying home when sick, and making an effort to avoid spreading diseases.
She added that Canadians need to keep pushing for paid leave for employees so they can stay home when sick.
She said Vierlyn Lunn’s mixed feelings about government policy on COVID-19, noting that she also understands the yearning for a semblance of normalcy before the pandemic.
But Lun is critical of those who say they should not be expected to make sacrifices for the sake of vulnerable members of the population.
“I totally agree that you should live your life,” she said.
“But if you honestly and knowingly put someone else at risk because of your selfishness. I think that person really needs to validate themselves.”
When Dr. Kieran Moore, the county’s chief medical officer of health, announced in March that mandates for masks would be lifted, he said that while that didn’t mean the pandemic was over, it was time to move on.
“We are now learning how to live with and deal with COVID-19 in the long term,” Moore said in early March. This calls for a shift to a more balanced response to the epidemic.
Moore also warned at the time that concealment requirements may eventually need to be re-established if there is another spike in COVID-19 cases, and added that people at risk should continue to take precautions despite the easing of restrictions.
But Parks, an infectious disease specialist, said she did not expect governments to bring back mandatory mask-wearing given the protest against public health mandates, however, she urged people to wear them voluntarily during peak seasons, such as fall and winter. She also urged people to stay home when sick, and advocate for better health care.
“There are very vulnerable people, and they live among us,” she said. “We should care about them as much as we care about our family members and ourselves.”