Currently living in one of the country’s worst hit by COVID-19, Brent Kowk has this advice for anyone questioning the seriousness of the virus or measures in place to prevent its spread: stay put.
Brent and wife Rose-Marie left Salmon Arm for France at end of January for a three-month visit with family. Around the same time, France’s first five cases of COVID-19 were identified in Bordeaux.
On March 16, the nation went under lockdown for 15 days, which has since expanded to May 11. Meanwhile, the nation, as of April 17, had recorded about 165,000 cases of COVID-19; 17,920 people were reported to have died from the virus, while approximately 32,900 had recovered.
With borders closed, flights cancelled and the lockdown in place, the Kowk’s are staying put themselves in a small rural community south of Nantes.
Brent, who works at Shuswap Lake General Hospital in maintenance, said when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called for Canadians to return home while they still could, Rose-Marie, who is from France and is also a Canadian citizen, was in the process of renewing her passport.
“So I’d have had to leave her here and come home on my own, so I said no, I’ll stay,” said Brent.
While the number of COVID-19 cases is higher in France’s more populated urban areas, Brent said restrictions are being enforced throughout the country.
“For us to go out we have to print out an ‘excuse form’ I will say, fill it out and then go and do what it is,” Brent explained, adding the form must also include how long you’re going to be out. Only one person can be out at a time and, if you’re caught by police without the form, you could be fined 135 Euro (about $206 Cdn.)
Brent said the quarantine was put in place after the nation was unable to control the spread of the virus through physical distancing. Kowk suggested that the mandatory quarantine might have to do how friendly the French are, greeting one another with a kiss on the cheek or a handshake.
“You can meet a person three times in a day and they’ll shake your hand every time…,” said Kowk. “That’s the way they are right, so it spread pretty fast once it caught here and it didn’t seem to slow down at all, and that’s when the government had to finally step in and then pretty much quarantine us in our homes.”
However, from what he has seen in the news and through social media, Kowk said efforts to flatten the curve through physical distancing and other restrictions appear to be working in Canada.
“It looks like you could maybe end it a lot earlier than we’re going to end it because of the big, big numbers here,” said Kowk. “There’s still more than 500 people a day dying here in France from this. And that’s dropped dramatically from last week when we were having more than 1,000 a day die.”
Kowk said he and Rose-Marie, who is diabetic, have felt unbelievably stressed by the virus and how it has spread.
“Of course, I happened to get a cold, and it’s running through my mind that I’ve got this damned virus and the thing is, it’s not the fact that you get it, it’s the fact of who you give it to,” said Kowk. “My wife… if she gets it, I don’t know if she’d survive it. I probably would, but you never know right. That’s the thing with this, you never know.”
Adding to their stress was the impact of COVID-19 in Italy and some of the decisions being made on the front lines regarding the more severe cases of infection.
“They would look at… people and say, I’m sorry, there’s no room for you, and you’re 85 years old, you have kidney disease, you’re probably not going to survive anyway…” said Kowk. “That’s what they had to do there because they didn’t have room. They didn’t have ventilators, the hospital filled with people immediately. And of course, the people in France are seeing this so it made everyone a little more scared… because it’s just down the road from here.”
Kowk said those difficult decisions and related stories of sacrifice and loss, are what really impressed upon him how serious the virus is. He advised those who question efforts to stop its spread, or who think what’s happening in France couldn’t happen in Canada, to think again.
“If you take a town, say like Salmon Arm, with 20,000 people, if 50 per cent of the people get sick with this and 20 per cent of them need to be on a ventilator, there are two ventilators in Salmon Arm hospital,” said Kowk.
“What’s going to happen, right? People will be sent home to die and they’ll die alone because none of their family will be able to go and be with them.”
“And once you start seeing that, it makes it easy to sit in your house and watch TV and drink beer.”