A Toronto couple says they did everything right in the last year by following public health guidelines, but still — somehow — contracted COVID-19. And they’re likely never going to know how they got it.
Kevin Morris, 33, posted on Twitter that he and his partner Russ, 51, had tested positive for the respiratory illness earlier this month and were finally, slowly on the mend, but not before Russ endured a five-day hospital stay during which he required a ventilator.
“I’m more or less recovered, I have a bit of a lingering cough,” Morris told Yahoo News Canada, noting his partner’s recovery was slower and he was bed-ridden for two weeks.
Now the Toronto couple is warning others not to let their guard down just yet. The post, shared hundreds of times on Twitter including by Canadian actress and filmmaker Sarah Polley, comes as Ontario health officials confirmed the third wave of the virus.
“My partner and I got the U.K. variant of COVID here in Toronto and it was no joke,” Morris tweeted, referring to the COVID-19 variant of concern that experts say could be more contagious and more difficult to fight off.
Provincial data showed that variants of concern accounted for half of all cases in Ontario on March 15. Kevin and Russ received a call confirming they had contracted the U.K. variant just days after their positive COVID-19 test.
On March 2, “my partner started to feel body aches and physically tired and then I started to feel mild symptoms of that the next day,” Morris recalls.
“After a year of being at home and being paranoid every time you get a couch, we said let’s wait and see. But by [March 4] we could feel it getting stronger.”
The couple made arrangements for a friend to dog sit, as they weren’t venturing outside their apartment at all — even for walks or fresh air.
For Morris, his fever peaked on the weekend of March 6 and 7. “It’s everything people told you about. You’re physically exhausted. My partner had to tell me to drink some broth otherwise you were just going to get weaker. The phlegm that sits on your chest makes it very difficult to breathe. All that stuff.”
While he got better by Monday, March 8, his partner got worse. “His fever wasn’t going down, he was physically tired and we were noticing his breath was short.”
“We spoke to his doctor on Thursday afternoon and the doctor said ‘if your temperature is past this point you should go to the hospital’ — I don’t remember what it was exactly but it was enough for us to realize this was serious.”
So that’s what they did. Kevin drove Russ to the emergency at Toronto General Hospital, but could not go in with him.
“I literally had to drop him off at the emergency,” he recalls. “It was very emotional but you have to keep your cool … when you’re told to go to the hospital with COVID, [and] having that worry … this might be the last time I see him.”
“The first two days were hardest,” Morris says. The couple stayed in touch via text and watched episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race together (ironically the U.K. version of the popular reality competition series) which, like many seeking to socialize during the pandemic, was “COVID to a T.”
After two days Russ was able to get a good night’s sleep, but he was hooked up to an oxygen machine for pretty much his entire stay, Morris says, and was even sent home with a mobile one on March 16.
The couple says they’ll start double-masking once they’re out and about again, though that messaging in Canada is unclear.
In the U.S., Dr. Anthony Fauci called it “common sense” to wear two masks to help curb the spread of COVID-19 and its variants. In Canada, Dr. Theresa Tam’s guidance has been to wear triple layer masks, one of which should be a filter.
"Although it is normal for variants to emerge as viruses continuously evolve, these are considered variants of concern because they’re known to spread more easily," Dr. Tam said in November.
Morris worries about the variants, as well.
“It feels a little surreal to hear about things opening up when we don’t really understand how this new variant is working.”
Still, the couple considers themselves among the lucky ones. For having overcome the illness in a city teeming with condo towers, they live in a street-accessible apartment, bypassing the need for an elevator and coming into contact with hundreds of other residents.
Morris’s post on Twitter has garnered more attention than he thought it would, sometimes from trolls and faceless profiles suggesting still, a year into a global pandemic, that this is a hoax.
To their surprise, Morris engaged with some — only to defend his and his partner’s experiences even if he knew he was unlikely to “get through” to any of them: “This is very, very real and I do not wish this upon you or anyone that you know,” Morris explains.
“If it makes someone leave their home with a mask on or two masks on, I’m perfectly happy with that — but I also know I can’t control that.”