Darlene Lourenco says she’s “on the mend.”
That follows a two-week stay at Surrey Memorial Hospital earlier this month after contracting COVID-19, said Lourenco, who is a music teacher at Cambridge Elementary in Surrey.
“It was probably two days before I was tested. I had joint paint — severe joint pain — but I have arthritis, so I explained that away. I had a bit of a raspy voice, but I’m a music teacher and I often have a raspy voice, so I explained that away,” said Lourenco, who also has asthma and an autoimmune disease.
“But on a Friday morning, I woke up and I knew it. I was weak, coughing, sniffling.”
She said she got a test that day and had her positive result the following day.
“It was bearable for a day. It just felt like a flu or a cold, but the day after I went to emergency. My breathing was difficult.”
But Lourenco said she was sent home.
“Fair enough, I wasn’t sick enough for them to keep me because they’re full,” she explained. “I came back home and I was just sick. I couldn’t stay awake. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t move. My husband had to carry me along because I could barely walk. When it came to the time that I couldn’t lay down and breathe and my asthma medication wasn’t working anymore, I was taken by ambulance to emergency.”
After eight hours in emergency, she said she was taken to a ward and “almost immediately they could see that the oxygen they were giving me was not getting me through the night.”
While at the hospital, it “got busy,” Lourenco said.
“I think on one day, they had five people come into ICU with COVID. It was a scramble,” she said. “As soon as they were able to get me stable enough to move to a critical care unit, they had to get me out because there’s so many people coming in.”
Since the start of the pandemic, Lourenco said she hasn’t seen family or friends.
“I haven’t been to stores. My husband is the only one who really leaves the house. I got it from my classroom,” she said. “I got sick from my classroom, without a doubt.”
But she said she doesn’t want to blame anyone.
Lourenco said she knew she was at a “very high risk” to contract COVID-19.
At Cambridge Elementary, which has been closed for two weeks after an outbreak was declared, Lourenco said “everything was by the book.”
“Everything was done according to how they deemed it to be safe, although, in my situation, truly, I never felt safe.”
She said she knew there were cases at the school, but it was all “very private.”
Then she caught the virus.
“I was never alerted. Not once. Not even when an entire class was put into isolation, and I had taught that class twice that week.”
So when she got her result, she decided to send an email to the school’s staff, stating, “I’m in charge of my own privacy and I choose to let you all know that I’m sick, and you’ve all had kids in my room, so take precautions.”
Asked if she plans to go back to the school once she feels better, Lourenco said she wants to but has some reservations.
“I do. But I don’t know. My husband doesn’t think I should. I’m scared. The doctors told me there’s no way to know whether I have any true immunity. They don’t know enough about the disease to know if you can catch it again.
“I will go back if I get well. If there’s been a few changes. I really want to go back. I love my children.”
Meantime, the Surrey Teachers’ Association sent a letter to the Surrey Board of Education Friday (Nov. 27) to “confront the COVID-19 crisis in our community to ensure the continuity of education with greater safety for employees and students.”
In the letter, STA president Matt Westphal outlined three demands that the district should implement “immediately”: all students and staff be “required to wear a non-medical mask” when physical distancing is not possible in all places in schools; the district needs to “immediately move to implement a variant of Stage 3,” with a maximum 50 per cent density for all classes; the district needs to reopen online learning programs for those families that choose to not send their children to school; and “accommodations need to be provided for immunocompromised teachers and/or with medically supported health concerns.”
Westphal told the Now-Leader the letter was sent to the trustees before the outbreak was declared at Newton Elementary on Friday.
“We knew it was just a matter of time before another closure would happen, and I’m sure there will be more.”
He said the requests outlined in the letter are some of the same concerns teachers had at the beginning of the school year.
“It’s just we’re kind of renewing that call, saying as cases continue to mount, now we have another closure. There are some other schools that I suspect we’re going to see them (close) too, just given the volume of cases. Certainly the teachers at those schools are concerned.”
The main purpose of the requests, he said, are to make schools safer.
“I’m sorry to say that nothing that’s happening right now comes as a great surprise to us. We always had concerns but we’ve seen lots of cases in the schools and that there would be transmission. There’s room for debate about how much transmission there is, but clearly it is happening in some cases.”
Westphal added that he doesn’t think people want to completely switch over to remote learning again, like what was done in the spring.
“How bad will it get before they shift to that? We’re thinking now is clearly the time. We thought the time was sooner frankly, but to do that so the schools can continue to operate so students still can get that face-to-face education, which we know is really important,” he explained.
“We know there are risks associated with going to fully remote. Some students really they suffer as a result in terms of not getting as much support as they need and the isolation.