Sick woman pleads for expanded testing in Ontario after parents test positive for COVID-19

The last time Agnes Sokolowska saw her father, he was barely able to stand as paramedics led him out of her Mississauga townhouse.

Now, the 80-year-old is in intensive care suffering from COVID-19 — and given his age and compromised immune system, she doesn’t believe he’ll survive.

Worst of all, Sokolowska is convinced she was the one who passed the virus onto both of her elderly parents after pleading with doctors to test her when she fell ill last month. Now, she is imploring health-care leaders to expand the scope of novel coronavirus testing in Ontario, as the province has the lowest level of testing per capita in Canada.

“I feel neglected. I feel the system failed me. I feel that I did everything to protect my community,” Sokolowska said on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning on Monday.

“I protected everybody. Nobody protected me.”

Sokolowska’s ordeal started on March 22, when she got “very sick,” she said. Her father and 75-year-old mother also live in her home, and she takes care of them.

Sokolowska called her family doctor and described her symptoms, which included a cough, sore throat, headache and dizziness. She didn’t have a fever or shortness of breath, which are also considered common symptoms of COVID-19, according to the province’s website.

She was told she likely had the flu.

“I trusted it, and thought, ‘OK, I have the flu, I will live,'” she said. “Then I started to feel worse. I never had this kind of flu.”

“You have to test more”: Agnes Sokolowska says she wanted a test for the coronavirus but couldn’t get it, and now her parents are infected and her father is in the ICU. 16:30

Then, three days later, her mother developed the same symptoms — but she also got a fever.

Sokolowska called her mother’s doctor, who told her the same thing. It was likely the flu. No test was ordered.

“The moment I learned my mom is sick, I was so scared … that it’s COVID, [that] my father would get it. I knew he would not survive,” she said.

‘I couldn’t take care of him anymore’

Her father had recently been hospitalized and almost died, she said. He spent months on antibiotics while recovering from an infection.

Sokolowska said she tried her best to stay away from her parents and make sure the house was spotless, but as their sole provider, she couldn’t completely distance herself.

Then, last week, her father got sick too.

“He was so sick. God, I couldn’t take care of him anymore,” she said in a video on her Facebook page, describing the situation.

Sokolowska says she doesn’t believe her father will survive. (Submitted by Izabella Sokolowska)

Her father has now been in Credit Valley Hospital’s intensive care unit for almost a week. His condition is not improving, she said.

“It’s a very slight chance he will survive,” she told CBC News. No one from her family is able to see him, with visitors banned inside most Ontario hospitals.

Both Sokolowska’s father and mother have since been tested and diagnosed with COVID-19. Sokolowska was only tested on Saturday, and is still awaiting those results. A scan showed her mother’s lungs are okay, but she has had high blood pressure, she said.

“Deep inside, I was hoping that I don’t have it, but I did have it, but they didn’t test me. And now my father is dying,” Sokolowska said on Facebook.

Now, she is begging Ontario’s decision makers to expand the scope of testing in the province.

“My case was not handled the way it should be handled,” she said. “Maybe there was a slight chance that my parents would be saved.”

A testing backlog

Just over a week ago, Ontario’s backlog for COVID-19 tests had ballooned to just under 11,000. That number dropped to just 329 on Monday — though some infectious disease experts have still been critical of the province’s test capacity.

“We need to do better, we need to rapidly expand our testing. Not just in hospitals, but in out-of-hospital settings as well,” said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Toronto.

Ontario public health officials have previously said they hope to complete more than 5,000 tests a day in the near future. Over the last week, the province had been doing fewer than 4,000 tests per day.

Michael Gardam, chief of staff at Toronto’s Humber River Hospital, said Sokolowska’s situation was “very tragic” while speaking on Metro Morning on Monday.

“And sadly, I’ve heard other stories that are very similar to that,” he said.

“There’s no doubt that I think all of us would like to have had more testing done in Ontario.”

The province’s testing backlog has shrunk in recent days. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Mona Nemer, Canada’s chief scientist, echoed that sentiment last week in an interview with Radio-Canada.

”Based on what we are seeing and the number of tests, I have to say that I am a little bit preoccupied by the situation in Ontario because we should be doing more testing,” she said. “And I hope they’re going to be able to ramp this up.”

In a statement, the provincial Ministry of Health told CBC News that “physicians make decisions about who should be tested based on their own clinical assessment based on guidelines provided by the Chief Medical Officer of Health.”

The statement also says anyone who feels sick should stay home and self-isolate, and that anyone who is unsure they have COVID-19 can use the province’s online self-assessment tool to determine whether or not they should seek further care.

Sokolowska, for her part, doesn’t blame her family’s doctors.

“They were following the rules,” she said on Facebook.

“But those rules were not the right rules.”

adam.carter@cbc.ca

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