India's festive season spawns fears of renewed virus surge

Festive season virus fears

Just weeks after India fully opened up from a harsh lockdown and began to modestly turn a corner by cutting new coronavirus infections by near half, a Hindu festival season is raising fears that a fresh surge could spoil the hard-won gains.

“I’d be very worried about what we are going to see in India,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health and a leading infectious disease expert.

The festivals draw tens and thousands of people, packed together shoulder-to-shoulder in temples, shopping districts and family gatherings, leading to concerns among health experts who warn of a whole new cascade of infections, further testing and straining India’s battered health care system.

The Hindu festival season is traditionally laced with an unmatched fanfare and extravaganza, with socializing being the hallmark of the celebration. But this year's festivities have started on a pale note.

So far, the colorful and elaborate rituals for Durga Puja and Dussehra have been scaled down. The celebrations, bereft of all the grandiose, have been muted. The towering displays of religious sculptures are rare, and at many places, prayers have gone virtual, with organizers livestreaming the sessions for the devotees.

In many states, police barricades have been erected around the usually buzzing places of worship to avoid large gatherings.

But this could change.

Nearly 1 billion Indians will soon celebrate Diwali, the Hindu festival of light, and the country’s biggest. Socializing is key part of the most highly anticipated event of the year, with malls and markets buzzing with shoppers. It also traditionally brings in a massive increase in consumer spending across India.

Even though the government is expecting the festival to help resuscitate the ailing economy, it is also worried about people packing together, foregoing social distancing and masks.

Such concerns prompted Prime Minister Narendra Modi to address the nation in a televised speech earlier this week, warning people of “any laxity” during the festive season that "could strain India’s health system.”

India is second to the United States with the largest coronavirus outbreak. Last month, the country hit a peak of nearly 100,000 cases in a single day, but since then daily infections have fallen by about half and deaths by about a third.

Some experts say the decline in cases suggests the virus may have finally reached a plateau but others question the testing methods. India's testing rate has remained constant but it is relying heavily on antigen tests, which are faster but less accurate than traditional RT-PCR tests.

Even as the reasons behind the decline are not fully clear, India is still clocking more than 50,000 cases a day, making any new surge all the more important.

These fears stem largely from India's initial success story — until it wasn't.

In June, the southern coastal state of Kerala was cheered for flattening the curve, generating worldwide appreciation, even from the United Nations. But in a stunning reversal, it now fares as the second-worst state in active coronavirus cases in the country.

Health Minister Harsh Vardhan blamed “gross negligence” during the 10-day Onam festival celebrations in late August for Kerala's virus surge. Since then, reported infections there have jumped by five times, far outpacing the nationwide trend.

Kerala’s story has alarmed health experts who fear similar problems in the runup to Diwali that could reverse the gains.

“If we don’t avoid socializing during the upcoming festival season, I fear we will be back to where we started,“ said Dr. T. Jacob John, a retired virologist. “There is a significant risk ahead of us.”

For the many faithful, scaled-down celebrations aren't bringing home festival cheer and the urge to step out is only growing.

Sumita Chaterjee’s family has avoided outdoor gatherings for months after the 64-year-old resident of New Delhi and her granddaughter survived the virus in late June.

But now the family is planning to forego the restraint and take part in a ritual where the idol of goddess Durga will be immersed in a community pool on Sunday. The entire neighbourhood is expected to take part in the ritual.

“This is a matter of faith,” said Chaterjee. “I know there are risks but we can't make the gods angry.”


The latest numbers on COVID-19 in Canada for Saturday, Oct. 24

COVID-19: latest numbers

The latest numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Canada as of Oct. 24, 2020:

There are 213,958 confirmed cases in Canada.

_ Quebec: 99,235 confirmed (including 6,132 deaths, 83,819 resolved)

_ Ontario: 69,331 confirmed (including 3,086 deaths, 59,424 resolved)

_ Alberta: 24,261 confirmed (including 300 deaths, 20,310 resolved)

_ British Columbia: 12,554 confirmed (including 256 deaths, 10,247 resolved)

_ Manitoba: 4,088 confirmed (including 50 deaths, 2,116 resolved)

_ Saskatchewan: 2,669 confirmed (including 25 deaths, 2,070 resolved)

_ Nova Scotia: 1,100 confirmed (including 65 deaths, 1,029 resolved)

_ New Brunswick: 326 confirmed (including 4 deaths, 250 resolved)

_ Newfoundland and Labrador: 289 confirmed (including 4 deaths, 275 resolved)

_ Prince Edward Island: 64 confirmed (including 63 resolved)

_ Yukon: 20 confirmed (including 15 resolved)

_ Repatriated Canadians: 13 confirmed (including 13 resolved)

_ Northwest Territories: 5 confirmed (including 5 resolved), 3 presumptive

_ Nunavut: No confirmed cases

_ Total: 213,958 (3 presumptive, 213,955 confirmed including 9,922 deaths, 179,636 resolved)

O'Toole tells Alberta UCP AGM Liberals were "late and confused" on COVID response

Alberta responded better?

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole says Alberta has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic better than the federal government.

O'Toole addressed the provincial United Conservative Party's annual general meeting by livestream from Ottawa.

He says when Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talks about Canada building back better from the COVID-19 pandemic, it's code for leaving out workers in the energy, forestry, auto and steel sectors.

O'Toole says the Liberals were confused and late at every step of the pandemic, including closing the border, procuring personal protective equipment and implementing rapid testing.

He says Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has taken charge and not waited to make things happen, citing an early lead on testing as an example.

Alberta's daily case count began to surge over the 400 mark this week, up sharply from about a month ago when new infection totals stood in the mid-100s.

While Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba have toughened restrictions on certain businesses and activities in recent weeks, Kenney has said his government prefers encouraging personal responsibility over imposing new shutdowns on Alberta's frail economy.

Alberta chief medical officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw has warned Alberta is in the "danger zone" as hospitalizations and intensive care admissions rise.

Top doctor warns that severe illness likely to rise, trailing spike in COVID-19 cases

Hospitalizations may rise

Canada's top physician says she fears the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths may increase in the coming weeks as the second wave continues to drive the national death toll toward 10,000.

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam says the number of Canadians experiencing severe illness is on the rise amid a spike in cases.

She says an average of 1,010 patients with COVID-19 were being treated in hospital each day over the past week, about 20 per cent of whom were in intensive care units.

Average daily deaths associated with the disease reached 23 over the past seven days.

However, Tam says the most critical health impacts associated with the uptick have yet to emerge, as hospitalizations and deaths tend to lag behind viral spread.

Tam's comments came the same day Ontario reported a new single-day high of 978 new coronavirus cases, along with six more deaths, pushing the national death toll to 9,920.

Quebec reported that daily cases again topped 1,000, with 26 deaths and 549 patients now in hospital, 17 per cent of whom were in intensive care.

BCCDC flags 8 Vancouver flights for possible COVID-19 exposure

8 More flights on watchlist

The BC Centre for Disease Control is warning airline passengers they may have been exposed to COVID-19 on multiple recent Vancouver flights. 

Eight new flights have been added to the BCCDC's list of affected flights:

  • Oct. 15: Air Canada 8187, Vancouver to Fort St. John (Rows 2 - 6)
  • Oct. 19, Air Canada 8484, Vancouver to Edmonton (Rows 7 - 13)
  • Oct. 14: Air Canada 299, Winnipeg to Vancouver (Rows 21 - 27)
  • Oct. 16: WestJet 714, Vancouver to Toronto (Rows 17 - 23)
  • Oct. 17: WestJet 139, Calgary to Vancouver (Rows 1 - 7)
  • Oct. 11: WestJet 141, Edmonton to Vancouver (Rows 1 - 6)
  • Oct.14: Aeromexico 696, Mexico City to Vancouver (Not reported) 
  • Oct. 16: WestJet 725, Toronto to Vancouver (Rows 2 - 8)

Any travellers returning to B.C. are encouraged to check the public health agency's website for updates about flights identified for the risk of exposure. Those travelling from outside of Canada, meanwhile, must arrive prepared with a 14-day self-isolation plan. 

Dutch hospital airlifts patients to Germany amid virus surge

Patients airlifted to Germany

A bright yellow helicopter rose into a blue sky Friday carrying a COVID-19 patient from the Netherlands to a German intensive care unit, the first such international airlift since the pandemic first threatened to swamp Dutch hospitals in the spring.

The clatter of the helicopter’s rotors as it lifted off from a parking lot behind a hospital 30 kilometres (20 miles) east of Amsterdam was a noisy reminder of how the coronavirus is again gripping Europe and straining health care systems that struggled for equipment and staff during the pandemic's first wave.

Elsewhere on the continent, an absence of noise will underscore the virus' resurgence. More than two-thirds of the people living in France were to be subject to a nightly curfew starting at midnight Friday, hours after health authorities announced that the country had joined Spain in surpassing 1 million confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic.

“The epidemic is very strongly accelerating,” French President Emmanuel Macron said after visiting a hospital near Paris.

France became the second country in Western Europe and the seventh world-wide to reach that number of known infections after reporting 42,032 new daily cases. Of the 445,000 confirmed cases the World Health Organization had recorded in the past 24 hours, nearly half were in Europe, Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19, said.

Experts say the real numbers of infections are probably much higher than the ones governments are reporting because of a lack of wide testing early on and the fact that some people don't develop symptoms. The head of the World Health Organization warned Friday that countries in the Northern hemisphere were at a “critical juncture” as cases and deaths continue to rise.

“The next few months are going to be very tough and some countries are on a dangerous track,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a media briefing from Geneva.

Curfews to rein in nightlife and other opportunities for the virus to spread are some of the increasingly drastic measures European nations are enforcing to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The 9 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew taking effect for at least six weeks in 38 regions of France come on top of the government imposing the same restrictions in Paris and other French cities last week.

The extension means that 46 million of France’s 67 million people will be under curfews that prohibit them from being out and about during those hours except for limited reasons, such as walking a dog, travelling to and from work and catching a train or flight.

In Italy, where the governors of the three regions that include Rome, Milan and Naples declared overnight curfews early in the week, the capital moved to make “nightlife” hours even shorter for young people who tend to hang out in trendy piazzas, carousing for hours without masks as they sip cocktails and knock down beers.

Protesters in Naples, angry over the just-imposed 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. regional curfew and by the local governor’s vow to put the region under lockdown to try to tame surging COVID-19 infections, clashed with police on Friday night.

RAI state TV said local merchants joined the protest, hours after Gov. Vincenzo De Luca told citizens in a televised speech that he was “moving toward closing everything down” except essential services. Demonstrators threw rocks and smoke bombs, and police officers responded with tear gas, Italian media said.

Rome’s populist Five-Star Movement mayor, Virginia Raggi, signed an ordinance putting off limits, until Nov. 13, several gathering spots highly popular for night-time drinking starting at 9 p.m. The crackdown covers landmark nocturnal hangouts including Campo de’ Fiori, a vast expanse in the heart of Rome that doubles as an open-air food market during the day, and Piazza Trilussa, a square near the Tiber River that is usually packed in the evening with rowdy drinkers.

A 4 1/2-hour nightly curfew is to come into effect Saturday night in the Greek capital, Athens, and the country’s second largest city of Thessaloniki, as well as several other areas deemed to have high infection rates.

In Spain, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez publicly appealed for the country to pull together to defeat the new coronavirus.

“We have to step up the fight,” he said in a televised address to the nation which this week became the first European country to surpass 1 million officially recorded COVID-19 cases. Sánchez admitted, though, that the true figure could be more than 3 million, due to gaps in testing and other reasons.

Restrictions on European daily life even extended to cancelling the one-day fall session of the 31-seat parliament on the Arctic island of Greenland after a member of the assembly’s financial committee was in contact with a person who had tested positive.

Worldwide, the virus has infected more than 41 million people and killed more than 1.1 million, according to a count by Johns Hopkins University. The true numbers are far higher due to gaps in testing and reporting cases.

The Dutch airlift to a hospital in the German city of Muenster came amid soaring rates of infection in the Netherlands, where the seven-day rolling average of daily new cases has risen over the past two weeks from 24.58 new cases per 100,000 people on Oct. 7 to 47.74 new cases per 100,000 on Oct. 21.

Flevohospital spokesman Peter Pels said flying patients across an international border was a last resort after other hospitals in the region around Almere said their intensive care units couldn't take them. The hospital was transferring two patients to Germany on Friday.

“We actually prefer not to move patients because it is very drastic, also for family,” he said. “But to keep the quality and safety of care at a good level, unfortunately it is necessary to move patients.”

Numbers have been spiking in neighbouring Germany as well, with the country’s disease control centre saying Friday that 11,242 new cases were reported over the last 24-hour period, just shy of the record 11,278 mark set the day before. The nationwide infection rate over the last seven days rose to 60.3 cases per 100,000 residents, up from 56.2 the day before.

At the same time, the country has more than 8,100 intensive care beds free at the moment, with about 21,500 occupied, according to the German Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine. There’s also a reserve of around 12,700 beds that can be activated within seven days if necessary.

During the first phase of the pandemic, in the last week of March and first two weeks of April, Germany took in a total of 232 intensive care patients from Italy, France and the Netherlands.

Germany is now also in talks to take in people from the Czech Republic.

In that hard-hit country, the health minister was under pressure to resign Friday after a media report that he broke strict government restrictions and visited a Prague restaurant for a meeting, just hours after announcing tightened virus restrictions.

In France, eight patients were transferred in a medical aircraft from the region of Lyon, in the east of the country, to other hospitals in towns less affected by the virus in western France, something that hadn’t happened since the spring.

“In many cities across Europe, the capacity for ICU is going to be reached in the coming weeks. And that’s a worrying situation as we’re in October,” WHO’s Van Kerkhove said, noting the flu season is about to begin and will likely increase the strain on hospitals. “The worry we have are the numbers of individuals requiring hospitalization.”

B.C. had 223 new COVID-19 cases, no deaths, in past 24 hours

223 new cases, no deaths

There have been another 223 COVID-19 cases identified across British Columbia in the past 24 hours, including 18 in the Interior Health region.

The new cases bring the total positive tests in the province to 12,554, and active cases are now at 2,009. This is the highest number of active cases the province has had since the beginning of the pandemic.

Of these cases, 75 people are being treated in hospital, 24 of whom are in intensive care. Another 4,637 people are self-isolating under public health monitoring after coming into contact with a COVID-positive person.

No new COVID-related deaths occurred in the past 24 hours, and the total remains at 256.

Two new long-term care home outbreaks were declared Friday, in Burnaby and Surrey, while four other care home outbreaks were declared over. Currently, outbreaks remain at 16 care homes and two acute-care facilities.

Additional community outbreaks were declared at Coast Spas Manufacturing in Langley and Pace Processing in Surrey. The province did not disclose the number of cases associated with each outbreak.

The outbreak at Kelowna's École de l’Anse-au-sable school grew to 11 cases as of Friday, and Interior Health also announced a cluster of COVID-19 cases connected to Building Blocks Educare childcare centre on Gordon Drive. There are currently 72 active cases of the virus in the Interior. 

"In recent days, we have seen a number of new outbreaks of COVID-19 in the community and in long-term care facilities. Contact-tracing teams throughout our province are working around the clock to stop further spread, but it requires all of us to do our part to be successful in these efforts,” Dr. Bonnie Henry said in a statement.

“This is our opportunity and the time to take a step back from our social interactions and keep our groups small this weekend. In doing this, we show our appreciation and support for the important work of contact tracers.”

Over past two weeks, 46 new COVID-19 cases in Okanagan

Cases trend up in Okanagan

Of the 77 new COVID-19 cases that were identified in the Interior Health region in the past two weeks, 46 came from the Okanagan.

New geographical data was recently released by the BC Centre for Disease Control, showing a more detailed break down of cases by Health Service Delivery Area. New cases in the Okanagan have more than tripled compared to the same two-week period at the end of September.

Twenty-six of the new cases came from the Thompson Caribou Shuswap region, while the Kootenay Boundary area saw just three, and the East Kootenays had just two. As of Thursday, there were 57 active cases across the entire Interior Health region, and two people are hospitalized.

Over those two weeks, the Okanagan has counted for about 2.1 per cent of the province's total new cases, while the Thompson Caribou Shuswap region made up about 1.2 per cent.

British Columbia has seen a serious uptick in cases over the past two weeks, with 2,146 new cases. This makes up 17.4 per cent of all the province's cases since the pandemic began. The province is, however, testing more people than ever with daily totals some days in excess of 10,000 tests.

The Fraser South region, consisting of Surrey, Delta, White Rock and Langley, has seen the largest increase in the past two weeks, with 1,058 new cases. More than 26 per cent of all of the region's cases have come in the past two weeks.

Meanwhile, the Okanagan has seen a little over 11 per cent of its cases in the past two weeks, while the Thompson Caribou Shuswap region has had close to 16 per cent of its cases in those two weeks.

Thursday, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the province is in a “critical time” when it comes to the pandemic, with case counts rising and influenza season approaching.

She noted that many of the new cases have been spread from large family gatherings like weddings and funerals. 

The latest numbers on COVID-19 in Canada for Friday, Oct. 23

COVID-19: latest numbers

The latest numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Canada as of Oct. 23, 2020:

There are 211,037 confirmed cases in Canada.

_ Quebec: 98,226 confirmed (including 6,106 deaths, 82,792 resolved)

_ Ontario: 68,353 confirmed (including 3,080 deaths, 58,799 resolved)

_ Alberta: 23,829 confirmed (including 296 deaths, 20,014 resolved)

_ British Columbia: 12,331 confirmed (including 256 deaths, 10,114 resolved)

_ Manitoba: 3,935 confirmed (including 48 deaths, 2,032 resolved)

_ Saskatchewan: 2,558 confirmed (including 25 deaths, 2,024 resolved)

_ Nova Scotia: 1,097 confirmed (including 65 deaths, 1,028 resolved)

_ New Brunswick: 319 confirmed (including 4 deaths, 223 resolved)

_ Newfoundland and Labrador: 287 confirmed (including 4 deaths, 274 resolved)

_ Prince Edward Island: 64 confirmed (including 61 resolved)

_ Yukon: 17 confirmed (including 15 resolved)

_ Repatriated Canadians: 13 confirmed (including 13 resolved)

_ Northwest Territories: 5 confirmed (including 5 resolved), 3 presumptive

_ Nunavut: No confirmed cases

_ Total: 211,037 (3 presumptive, 211,034 confirmed including 9,884 deaths, 177,394 resolved)

Unmasked TransLink rider spits on passenger who called her 'disgusting'

Spitting, shoving over mask

Vancouver Transit Police are investigating an altercation caught on video in which an unmasked female TransLink passenger spat in the face of a masked male who called her “disgusting.”

The male passenger responds to being spat on by twice pushing the woman – who is not wearing a mask as currently mandated by TransLink – off the bus.

The woman falls to the ground outside the bus, where she is approached by a bystander.

Neither of the TranksLink passengers called Transit Police to report the incident, confirmed Sgt. Clint Hampton.

“We are aware of the video, our general investigation unit is now investigating, which includes reaching out to the person who posted the video,” he elaborated.

TransLink advises customers not to press the issue if they see another passenger not wearing a face covering.

"We ask customers not to attempt to enforce TransLink’s mandatory mask policy," a spokesperson said via email.

Not only could the exchange end in aggression, or worse, they said not all medical exemptions are visible.

"Spot checks show about 95 per cent of customers are complying with the policy and are wearing masks on board transit vehicles," TransLink assured.

Instead, customers are encouraged to contact Transit Police or use the silent alarm onboard buses at any time.

Hospitals, long-term care homes have little room for second-wave surge, inquiry hears

Little room for second wave

Hospitals and long-term care homes are nearly at capacity and won't be able to handle a surge in COVID-19 patients during the second wave of the pandemic, an independent commission has heard.

While there are plenty of physical spaces set to handle an influx in patients, which include many field hospitals ready to go, there is no one to staff them, the Ontario Hospital Association told the Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission earlier this month.

That leaves hospitals across the province with only one quick solution, which they have dubbed the "dimmer switch" — shutting down elective surgeries once again to free up more beds and staff, the association said.

The commission, which is investigating how the novel virus spread in the long-term care system, isn't open to the public, but transcripts of testimony are posted online days later. The hospital association testified on Oct. 5, and the transcript was posted two weeks later.

Barbara Collins, the CEO of Humber River Hospital, testified that about 5,000 hospital patients in the province could be transferred to long-term care homes to continue their recovery. But those homes, she said, have no room, partially due to a government rule that limits use of three- and four-bedroom wards, which proved deadly during the first wave of the pandemic.

"We survived last time, largely because we cancelled surgery," Collins told the commission.

"It is being spoken about as a dimmer switch this time."

That option, which led to a backlog of nearly 200,000 surgeries in Ontario, remains the best — and potentially only — option for hospitals to quickly free up space and staff to handle a rush of COVID-19 patients, she said.

In the early days of the pandemic, the province focused on creating space in hospitals, but the COVID-19 surge occurred in long-term care homes, the commission has previously heard.

In addition to cancelling surgeries, hospitals moved as many patients as possible to long-term care facilities in February and March, said Gillian Kernaghan, the CEO of St. Joseph's Health Care in London, Ont.

That set the stage for the novel coronavirus to tear through the homes with deadly effects.

"It meant that when long-term care started to see cases with COVID, they had no places to isolate people because they were full," Kernaghan said.

Many long-term care homes were overrun by COVID-19, especially in March and April before the province finally launched its action plan to deal with the catastrophic outbreaks in nursing homes.

To date, 1,910 long-term care residents have died of the disease.

Now, with elective surgeries back on, hospitals are near capacity, said Anthony Dale, the association's president.

And this time around, the health-care system faces another crisis: staffing.

"The challenge is that long-term care homes, hospitals, home care, are all facing human resource shortages right now, and so it is not actually the physical capacity we are worried about right now," Kernaghan said.

She said the province's directive to only allow staff to work with one employer has also contributed to the human resource crisis in long-term care homes.

"We probably had 10 to 12 homes that we worked with very actively every day for whom staffing crisis was precipitated by the single-employer directive, and more commonly the person picked the hospital to work in because of lots of reasons," Kernaghan said.

"And this is when it became somewhat ridiculous, because what we then had to do when we had a staffing crisis, we went to the hospital. They sent the same staff member back technically as a hospital staff member to solve the problem in the long-term care home."

Dale said he would like the province to rethink it's single-employer edict.

"Staffing shortages, as the members have said, remains a very significant issue, particularly in long-term care, so we do recommend a thoughtful re-evaluation of the universal application of the single-employer policy," he said.

Dale also warned that the current setup to fight COVID-19 in Ontario, which relies heavily on hospitals and their staffs, is "precarious."

"There is a huge amount of risk uploaded into the system, and with our colleagues in long-term care facing the challenges that they are, even with the assistance of hospitals, this is quite a precarious situation, and it is why we have been so aggressive in calling for new public health measures to stop community spread," Dale said.

There are "historic high numbers" of patients now in hospital who do not need to be there, but have nowhere else to recover, he said.

Kernaghan said there is no ability to ramp up staffing at both hospitals and long-term care homes in rural Ontario, partially because there is no child-care help.

"In many of our rural regions, there is no staff to hire," Kernaghan said. "It is not for lack of trying, I can assure you."

The staffing challenge in cities is different, she said, with many staff having to stay home if their child is sick with COVID-19 or have been exposed to the disease.

Sicamous man who beat COVID and lost 4 friends to it fed up with disbelievers

Survivor: COVID is real

A Sicamous man recovering from COVID-19 has a message for the disbelievers – the pandemic is real.

"Over the last couple of months, I've heard many varying views surrounding COVID-19. There appears to be somewhat of a divided opinion, on not just the effects COVID has on the body, but to some, whether COVID is even real," Colin Martin posted on the Sicamous Rant & Rave Facebook page.

"What I can say definitively, is COVID is real and is unlike any flu or virus I've ever contracted."

Martin, who says he has lost four friends to the deadly virus, says it attacked his lungs, making it "extremely difficult to breath."

That exacerbated his already heightened anxiety level, but – luckily – Martin recovered quickly.

The situation "went on for roughly four days, and gradually tapered off," he wrote.

"What has become paralyzingly frustrating, is this public dissension we see, where so many feel COVID is a hoax and should be treated as so. Was COVID man made? I do not know. Is it being used by government for some form of clandestine purpose? I do not know. Do face masks help in the prevention of spreading the virus? I do not know. Is there a cure? I don't know that either.

"What I can say conclusively, is four individuals I would characterize as friends were not as lucky as myself, and ultimately succumbed to the effects of the virus."

Martin says those who believe the pandemic is a scam or conspiracy need to give their heads a shake.

"Your attitude is not only a complete slap in the face to those who have lost their lives ... but also to the families these individuals have left behind."

He continues: "Take what risks you're willing to take, do what works for you and your family, but quit with this charade that COVID is a hoax and doesn't exist.

"It's a very unnerving feeling to have a virus when no readily available treatment exists. To lay in a bed unable to breath with thoughts of whether you're going to pull through or not isn't very comforting ... worse (is) listening to people downplay the effects of COVID or whether it is even real."

His post has garnered more than 160 comments and 100-plus likes.

"It horrifies me the amount of verbal abuse being given out by people on both sides. I have been told off by strangers in public both for wearing a mask and for not wearing a mask," said Lori Leanne Heins.

"Thank you for posting this. I am tired of being judged because we choose to wear masks and take precautions," added Leola Goldsmith Walker.

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