Candice Makhan never accepts Facebook friends she doesn’t know. For some reason, she decided to accept a random request from Ruth Castellanos.
The two fell ill in the spring and joined a Facebook support group for people with persistent COVID-like symptoms. So Castellanos reached out and began to share. It turned out that neither of the two tested positive for the virus, although they were still able to bond during the experience, exchanging support and stories of similar symptoms that ‘they still have.
“At least something positive came out of it,” said Castellanos, who lives in Flamborough, Ont., Near Hamilton.
Making new friends seems unlikely at the moment, with the calls to stay home and separate. But the pandemic has forged new friendships like this that probably wouldn’t have happened otherwise.
Makhan and Castellanos are still off work, going back and forth between specialist appointments and unsure of what is going on with their bodies. Makhan says it means a lot to have someone who understands what she is going through. She knows family and friends mean well, but Castellanos understands her, she says.
“We can share a lot of experiences that are very common. Frustration, disappointment, excitement,” she said.
It’s a friendship that burns slowly. They’ve mostly delivered messages about COVID-19, but are gradually learning more about each other’s personal lives – their families, how they ended up where they are, their hopes for the future.
“I don’t think that once we’re better [the friendship] is going to end… I made a very good friend here, “said Castellanos.” We really listen to each other and help each other. “
Other COVID friendships were sparked out of necessity. When the pandemic began, Dr Tony Stone contacted Dr Robert Kyle about setting up an intervention table, to coordinate community efforts.
The men knew each other. Kyle is the Durham Region’s Medical Officer of Health, while Stone is a family doctor and chief of staff at Lakeridge Health, which runs several hospitals. But they didn’t know each other well. Kyle blames the “silos” among healthcare professionals.
But the two clicked and have been working closely ever since, trying to break those silos.
“There are a lot of Saints out there who give their all… and Tony is definitely one of them,” Kyle said.
They were brought even closer to Orchard Villa, the province’s worst-hit long-term care home, where the military was sent and where 70 residents died in the first wave of the virus.
Kyle credits their newfound friendship for being able to send Stone’s team to temporarily manage the facility.
“It is always a blessing to meet someone with shared values, shared passions and common commitment,” he said.
They can’t wait for the day when they can talk about more than just COVID-19 and even hang out together in person, perhaps for one of Kyle’s morning runs – he drives five miles every day.
“I just need to be a little fitter to be able to follow him,” Stone said.
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Because COVID-19 is at the heart of these new friendships, it gives them someone they can talk to freely about the virus – so their families don’t have to hear about it all the time.
New friends Shalu Bains and epidemiologist Laura Rosella will be making calls about this late at night. They are in contact every day.
“Certainly the first text [of the day] is Laura. The final text of the evening is addressed to Laura, ”said Bains, vice president of Trillium Health Partners, which has hospitals in the hard-hit Peel and Etobicoke region of Ontario.
“Sometimes … [it’s] very related to work. And sometimes it will be an emoji that explodes in the head, ”added Rosella, associate professor at the University of Toronto.
Like Stone and Kyle, they knew each other long before the pandemic. When he started, Bains reached out to Rosella to discuss the hospital’s data and analysis. Now they talk about everything.
The two have a young child around the same age and say they are guilty of not having put them to bed earlier. They recently learned that they both live in Mississauga, only about 10 minutes apart.
“You need these types of relationships to build resilience, because it’s not going away anytime soon,” Bains said. “We have really developed trust, respect and trust in each other.”
For now, it remains a virtual friendship, growing over text messages, phone calls, on Zoom. They often think about what will happen when they finally meet in person, as friends.
“You definitely have a big hug,” Rosella said. “I’m a big hug.”
Have you made a new COVID friend?
Maybe it’s a grocery store clerk or a neighbor you didn’t know. Or maybe you’ve met someone in the park or in the queue to take a COVID-19 test. Email [email protected] about your new pandemic friendship.