Around the same time the world was shutting down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Luke Harris’s world came crashing down when he was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer.
In the last week of February, the normally healthy 36-year-old started feeling off. He thought he had the flu so started taking Tylenol and kept working. When things didn’t improve he took himself to a walk-in clinic where the doctor ordered blood work and a CT scan. By this stage, Harris had developed excruciating stomach pains.
The doctor called Harris back to his office.
“My proteins were really high so I either had an infection or I had a blood clot or something. He told me I need to go to the hospital ASAP,” Harris said.
Another round of testing at the hospital showed his blood work to be normal, so they handed over the clinic test results and he was rushed in for emergency surgery.
Harris had a four centimetre-wide tumour removed that had broken through the side of his colon wall. The cancer had also spread to his bowel and lymph nodes.
His girlfriend, Ashley Ferguson, was with him through it all.
“His body was going septic and that’s why he had such excruciating abdominal pains,” she said.
Harris is now back home with a colostomy bag. “I call it my poop bag,” he says.
“We try to make light of it, try to make some humour out of it,” Ferguson adds.
But the full scope of the situation was still to come.
“The cancer spread to my liver, and into my lymph nodes. I’m starting chemo on Monday and doing some naturopath things to try and combat it the best I can,” Harris said.
The prognosis at this stage is sobering. Without chemotherapy treatment, he was given three months left to live.
“If I do the chemo and it stops everything where it’s supposed to be I might get five years, which is kind of a hard pill to swallow,” he said.
Harris is a truck driver and is now on medical Employment Insurance. When that runs out, he’s hoping to get on disability. Ferguson owns a residential cleaning business but she says that with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and Harris’ treatments, “I haven’t worked pretty much since we went into the hospital.”
The diagnosis combined with the COVID-19 pandemic have made things not only emotionally tough, but financially.
“COVID-19 has just made everything harder, you know just even financially to try and sell something like a vehicle or something to help with the cost of things, nobody will come look at anything,” Harris said “It’s more stressful just to add everything together and it’s a lot to take.”
Harris says he is determined to beat his diagnosis. One of the biggest changes is switching up his diet.
“The doctor says you need to eat plant based foods and cut out meats and do all that,” Harris said. “I’ve done it and it wasn’t easy at first but i’m getting used to it.”
The couple has also set up a GoFundMe to help with the cost of specialized treatments, medications, medical supplies etc.
Ava Hawkins, one of only 15 certified sign language interpreters in B.C., is used to being recognized in the deaf community.
But the 56-year-old was caught off guard last week when walking out of her Vancouver apartment just before 7 p.m.
Applause started to spill out of windows and balconies, a gesture of thanks for health-care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Suddenly, a neighbour yelled out to Hawkins, who can hear, from their balcony.
“Hey Ava, congratulations. Well done on TV,” she recalled the neighbour saying as they applauded.
In recent weeks, Hawkins’ profile has skyrocketed under strange circumstances.
Since early March, she has served as an interpreter for the City of Vancouver’s coronavirus briefings, using American Sign Language to translate some of the city’s more dramatic announcements, including a shutdown of restaurants and bars, and the closure of outdoor public recreation facilities.
She joins a roster of interpreters across Canada who have gained legions of fans thanks to their daily appearances at briefings, and renewed public awareness around sign language.
“For us, it’s exciting,” said Jodi Birley, the ASL community relations manager at the Wavefront Centre for Communication Accessibility in Vancouver, which provides programs and services for the deaf community.
“Our community and culture are really getting exposure.”
Deaf ASL interpreter Tim Mallach signs 11 key terms related to COVID-19:
Deaf interpreter Tim Mallach shows 11 key terms related to the global COVID-19 pandemic in American Sign Language. 1:06
‘Wonderful expressive language’
The interpreters’ on-screen appearances have also highlighted gaps in accessibility and a public still new to the nuances of signing.
B.C.’s deaf community is estimated to number 50,000 people, with about 5,000 in the Lower Mainland.
They’ve typically relied on closed captioning to watch the news. But English is a second language for the deaf, which makes it more difficult to decipher, especially in emergency situations.
“There’s not a lot of things in signed languages. So it’s very stressful to know what’s happening in the world,” Birley said.
“We really rely on the announcements to be interpreted, so we can know the severity of the situation and how to help ourselves.”
Face and body movements are part of the grammar of sign language, helping convey emotion and tone, which is why interpreters appear so expressive and animated. And it’s that energy, in contrast to the stoic officials they stand beside, that has caught the eye of the wider public.
“I can’t tell you how much I enjoy the interpreters,” wrote Mia Johnson in a response to a CBC News call-out about relying on interpreters. “What a wonderful expressive language.”
“Rely on? Not really. But cannot live without them,” wrote Roxie Leigh. “Their dedication and enthusiasm are exactly what we all need right now, hearing or not.”
Live-stream viewers, however, occasionally pepper misguided jokes about the interpreters or label them a distraction.
“Some people just need to be educated on that,” said Jonathan MacDonald, a teacher at the B.C. School for the Deaf in Burnaby.
The 30-year-old, who’s deaf, said it’s been an exciting time for the deaf community, but noted that the public focus has skewed toward the interpreters’ personalties.
“People forget to look at the big picture,” he said. “It’s the concept behind it that’s the priority.”
And oftentimes, that service has been marred by technical slip-ups.
Video feeds have suddenly dropped. Interpreters sometimes aren’t timed with speakers. And, in one instance, a camera zoomed in on provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry while cutting out the interpreter beside her for 15 minutes.
“It felt very frustrating,” MacDonald recalled. “In emergencies, you have to think right away. Sign language is my right-away language, not English.”
When she’s interpreting, however, Hawkins doesn’t see the audience, stripping her of real-time visual cues. Instead, it’s her, the mayor, a cluster of city officials and a camera.
During one recent update, a city official started speaking quickly — up to 600 English words a minute, according to Hawkins. (In comparison, B.C.’s health minister speaks about 350 words a minute).
“We joke about it because I was sweating. It was so fast,” Hakwins laughed.
At another point, a city staffer nearly recited all the addresses of newly installed hand washing stations in the Downtown Eastside — an “interpreter’s nightmare,” Hawkins said, as the signer would normally use street corners.
ASL recognition a first step
But officials are starting to get accustomed to the interpreters. The city staffer who spoke quickly, Hawkins said, noticeably slowed down the following week.
The public, too, has come to expect the interpreters and will often note their absences. Support for Nigel Howard, the ASL interpreter featured at the daily provincial updates, has morphed into a Facebook fan club.
“I think even the deaf community is kind of stunned and surprised at some of the attention that the interpreters are getting,” said Hawkins, who grew up in a deaf family in Winnipeg.
She hopes that recognition will mean greater accessibility measures and more deaf people having a voice on the public stage.
At the city’s most recent coronavirus update, Hawkins assumed a role behind the scenes. She translated the mayor’s remarks for her deaf colleague, Tim Mallach, as he interpreted for the camera.
“Some of us are like chocolate ice cream and some of us are like strawberry,” Hawkins later said.
“It’s really lovely to see that the community can actually pick the flavour they want.”
As the COVID-19 crisis continues, truck drivers are helping keep store shelves stocked with food and other essential items, with little recognition from public officials.
Nowhere is that more clear than in the bathroom facilities they’re being forced to use.
In recent days, frustrated truckers have been sharing pictures on social media of the conditions in roadside restrooms they’ve encountered while hauling goods across British Columbia.
Some are in clear need of cleaning, with human waste on the toilet and surrounding area. Others are essentially outhouses indoors, with no working lights, running water, hand sanitizer, toilet seats – or even toilet paper.
Dan Dickey, a truck driver of 30 years who runs the B.C. Trucker website, said conditions at some rest stops and weighing stations have been poor as long as he can remember, but it’s become a much bigger issue during the pandemic because drivers have fewer alternative options when nature calls. That’s doubly true when driving overnight.
“The problem now with COVID-19 is that a lot of what used to be 24-hour facilities like Tim Hortons, McDonald’s, some gas stations, they’re no longer 24 hours,” Dickey told CTV News.
“They’re running on half staff. And restaurants are not letting you into their building. You can order your food and you can pick it up, that’s it.”
Without as many private restrooms available, truck drivers will sometimes find themselves walking into a pitch-black rest stop after dark to, as Dickey put it, “point and shoot and hope for the best.”
One such restrooms is located at the truck scale in Kamloops, which, in contrast to the prison located less than a kilometre away, does not have flush toilets or lights.
Dickey argued if prisoners were being asked to use the kind of facilities truckers are, it would be a scandal.
“If the BC Civil Liberties Association saw that in a prison, the government would be getting sued left, right and centre,” he said.
Dickey acknowledged truckers are at least partly responsible for the condition of the bathrooms, though he noted they share many of the facilities with the general public. He also said it’s been his experience that restrooms with flush toilets, sinks and other amenities that most people take for granted are generally kept in much better condition.
“You go up the Coquihalla on the Zopkios brake check, it’s a full heated washroom,” he said. “They’re well looked after both by the people that use them and the people that have to maintain them.”
Asked whether there are plans to improve cleaning protocols or upgrade facilities during the COVID-19 crisis, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure told CTV News it is “exploring options for additional washroom facilities for commercial drivers throughout B.C.”
What those options might look like is unclear. The province also noted that maintenance for roadside restrooms is performed by private contractors.
“They are systematically monitoring rest areas daily to ensure the facilities are clean, sanitary and well-stocked,” the ministry said in an email statement. “If people encounter less than ideal conditions at any provincial rest area, at any time, they are encouraged to contact the appropriate maintenance contractor or nearest ministry office.”
The government added that it has already installed some additional portable washrooms at commercial vehicle inspection stations in the Lower Mainland.
Dickey said he doesn’t blame the contractors, who are doing an unpleasant job to the best of their abilities. He just wants to see the government step up and get rid of so-called “pit toilets” in favour of flush toilets and working sinks once and for all.
In the meantime, he said some hand sanitizer would be a start – to keep people from catching the virus that many people are currently hiding from in the safety of their homes.
“The reason I’m particularly hostile about this issue is I’m a three-time cancer survivor, so I have a weakened immune system,” he said. “Now I’m concerned about walking in and grabbing a door handle.”
To ensure B.C.’s most vulnerable – including people on income or disability assistance and low-income seniors – do not encounter additional barriers during the COVID-19 crisis, the Province is implementing a series of temporary supports and supplements.
“We are putting in place measures that complement the federal crisis measures to support our most vulnerable populations and ensure they do not fall deeper into poverty as a result of COVID-19,” said Shane Simpson, Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction. “This is a stressful time for everyone, but for those struggling to put food on the table at the best of times, it is important that we ensure there are no additional barriers to get what they need to keep themselves and their families safe and healthy.”
For people in B.C. currently receiving income assistance or disability assistance, the Province will temporarily exempt federal employment insurance benefits, including the new $2,000 Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). These payments will be fully exempted for the next three months so people receiving income assistance and disability assistance in B.C. will benefit from these new emergency federal support programs, without any reductions to their monthly assistance payments.
For everyone on income assistance or disability assistance who is not eligible for the emergency federal support programs, including the CERB, the Province will provide an automatic $300-monthly COVID-19 crisis supplement for the next three months. This supplement will also be provided to low-income seniors who receive the B.C. Senior’s Supplement and recipients of income assistance or disability assistance who reside in special care facilities.
With the current provincewide suspension of BC Transit and Translink bus fares, the Province will also provide all BC Bus Pass Program users receiving income assistance and disability assistance with the $52 Transportation Supplement for the duration of the fare suspension. This will be included on the next cheque and for each subsequent month while the fare suspension remains in place.
Existing Compass passes under the BC Bus Pass Program will not be cancelled and will remain active during this time, so people will not need to reapply for bus passes in the future. This will also ensure people can still use SkyTrain and SeaBus services that are still charging fares. There is no change for eligible low-income seniors who will continue to have an active bus pass provided by the BC Bus Pass Program.
These interim measures further complement government’s $5-billion COVID-19 Action Plan to provide income supports, tax relief and direct funding for people, businesses and services.
To further support vulnerable people, the Province recently provided a $3-million emergency grant to Food Banks BC to distribute among food banks provincewide. The grant will support immediate needs to buy and distribute food, pay employees and cover other costs essential to the delivery of their food programs.
Recognizing that vulnerable people in different circumstances face distinct risks, the provincial Vulnerable Population Working Group continues to identify, assess and address the immediate challenges faced by five specific groups – people living on the street, people experiencing homelessness living in encampments, shelter residents, tenants of private single-residence occupancies and tenants in social and supportive housing.
This working group includes representatives from the ministries of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Social Development and Poverty Reduction, Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, Mental Health and Addictions, Children and Family Development, Health, Public Safety and Solicitor General, Finance, Attorney General, as well as Emergency Management BC, the City of Vancouver, the Office of the Provincial Health Officer, BC Centre for Disease Control, First Nations Health Authority, Provincial Health Services Authority, regional health authorities, BC Housing and Community Living British Columbia.
Reducing poverty is a shared priority between government and the BC Green Party caucus, and is part of the Confidence and Supply Agreement.
The provincial government is temporarily adding $300 to the monthly amount people on income and disability assistance receive to help them during the COVID-19 crisis.
The Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction said roughly 250,000 people are automatically eligible to receive the benefit on top of their regular support cheques for the months of April, May and June.
Minister Shane Simpson said the benefit will come with the next round of cheques on April 22, with no application required.
“We know that COVID-19 is having a serious impact on all British Columbians. We know that people are concerned and they’re scared. We know that people who are living in poverty and living vulnerable are even more scared and concerned as they move forward,” Simpson said Thursday.
The supplement will also go to low-income seniors who receive the B.C. Senior’s Supplement and people who receive income or disability assistance and live in a special care facility.
A single person on disability currently receives $1,183 a month, which will become $1,483 after adding the new supplement. A single parent with two children currently sees $1,609 a month, receiving $1,909 with the benefit.
In a separate measure, the ministry said people who receive assistance from the province will not see money clawed back from their cheques if they qualify for the new $2,000 Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).
Meanwhile, those on assistance who are part of the B.C. Bus Pass Program will have a $52 transportation supplement added to their income cheques as B.C. Transit and TransLink are not currently charging bus passengers. That money will also be included on the next cheque and will continue until the companies reinstate fares.
The measures are part of the province’s $5-billion financial aid plan to help British Columbians as the pandemic paralyzes the economy.
The plan included a monthly rebate for renters up to $500 a month. Simpson said those on disability and income assistance will not be eligible for that grant.
The minister acknowledged there are people who might not have internet access to learn more about financial aid available to them because public spaces, like community centres and libraries, have been shut down.
In those cases, Simpson said the ministry is asking the public not to come to their offices for help, but instead reach out by phone. He said the ministry is also working with local agencies who directly support people on assistance to connect them with support.
The province will provide a $300 supplement each month for some residents who currently receive income and disability assistance.
The crisis supplement will be offered for the next three months, the minister of social development and poverty reduction said.
The $300 a month is for those who are not eligible for emergency federal programs like the $2,000 Canada Emergency Response Benefit.
For those who are eligible for those programs, the province will temporarily exempt federal employment insurance benefits, including the CERB, for the next three months. This is to allow those already getting assistance to benefit from new federal support programs without reductions to their monthly payments, Minister Shane Simpson explained.
The $300 will also be available to low-income seniors who receive the province’s Senior’s Supplement, and those who receive income or disability assistance and live in special care facilities.
The ministry says this supplement will be automatically added to cheques for those who are eligible.
“We are putting in place measures that complement the federal crisis measures to support our most vulnerable populations and ensure they do not fall deeper into poverty as a result of COVID-19,” Simpson said during a news conference Thursday.
“This is a stressful time for everyone, but for those struggling to put food on the table at the best of times, it is important that we ensure there are no additional barriers to get what they need to keep themselves and their families safe and healthy.”
Simpson added that, due to fare suspensions from BC Transit and TransLink, the province will provide anyone who uses the BC Bus Pass Program, and is on some type of assistance, with a $52 transportation supplement for as long as fares aren’t being charged.
The supplement will be part of the next cheque those individuals receive, and will be added on each month going forward.
Those who’ve purchased passes through the program on their Compass Card will not see those passes cancelled, so they don’t need to reapply in the future.
Funding for the initiatives announced Thursday is part of B.C.’s $5-billion COVID-19 action plan, which also includes relief for renters, taxpayers and residents suddenly out of work.
Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix are scheduled to give their latest update about the coronavirus pandemic in British Columbia on Thursday, April 2 at 3 p.m. PT.
Earlier Thursday, the provincial government announced it would increase the monthly amount that people on income and disability assistance receive by $300, to help them during the COVID-19 crisis. The supplement will also go to low-income seniors.
As of Wednesday, 1,066 people in B.C. have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, and 25 people have died. More than 142 people are in hospital due to the virus, with 67 patients in intensive care.
More than half of all confirmed patients in B.C. — 606 in total — have fully recovered.
If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The B.C. government has licensed Zoom, an increasingly popular video-conferencing tool, to support virtual learning for students in kindergarten through Grade 12 during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The Ministry of Education said Wednesday it paid for access to the “easy-to-use” service so teachers in public and independent schools could have a common platform through which to reach their class while they are at home.
“This will allow consistent access for educators who choose to use it, giving them more ways to communicate with students and parents,” a statement said.
Zoom has primarily been used by businesses for “seamless” conference calls since its launch in 2013.
When the coronavirus outbreak kept millions of workers out of the office and separated friends and family, Zoom saw a surge in downloads as people sought to stay connected. It has become one of the most popular apps in the world.
However, the service’s recent spike in popularity has exposed some security and privacy weaknesses in the app, including problems with hackers accessing strangers’ meetings and data collection. The holes have been enough to prompt a letter from the New York Attorney General, according to the New York Times.
B.C.’s education ministry acknowledged parents’ potential security worries in its statement Tuesday, saying its new licensing agreement complies with B.C.’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPPA).
“School technology administrators can control permissions and privileges, while disabling features that are unnecessary or inappropriate. Students will be given a unique website address, so they can access their virtual classroom without needing an individual account,” the statement said.
“The Zoom server will be based in Canada, with added encryption, so it is a safe platform to learn,” it added.
‘Alternative approaches’ still a priority
The ministry also addressed the issue of accessibility. While Zoom is handy for real-time discussion and social interaction, not every family has access to or finances for consistent, reliable home internet with a signal strong enough to support smooth video streaming.
The ministry said schools have also been asked to find “alternative approaches for continued learning that will fit with the individual needs and circumstances of their communities.”
The statement said some school districts might be able to loan computer equipment or devices to support students.
Classes have been suspended for 555,000 students across the province since March 17. Teachers and students returned to “school” on Monday, with administrators struggling to find a new normal for instruction.
WATCH | B.C. Education Minister Rob Fleming says all students eligible to move onto the next grade will do so, despite suspended classes:
Education Minister Rob Fleming says every student eligible to graduate Grade 12 this year will do so, despite the suspension of classes due to the global pandemic. 0:25
The ministry said teachers should be getting a set of instructions and access to Zoom through their school districts this month.
The province also launched a site called Keep Learning B.C. on Friday, with links to free resources parents can use with their children.
The ministry said the website, which is updated daily with fresh materials, has been visited more than 136,000 times in the four days since its launch.
Even before COVID-19 hit, many B.C. renters have had to use a large portion of their income to keep a roof over their heads.
But with layoffs in many industries due to closures during the pandemic, tomorrow — when rent is due — has been looming even larger for many renters.
Last week, the province made several announcements to protect renters from being evicted because of the COVID-19 emergency. Those measures include a ban on most evictions, freezing rental increases and providing landlords with a $500 supplement to help pay rent of those struggling now.
But the first $500 monthly rent rebate from the B.C. government for those in need will not arrive in time for April 1.
What does this mean for renters and landlords? Community Legal Assistance Society lawyer Holly Popenia joined B.C. Today host Michelle Eliot to answer rent-related questions.
Q: The $500 rental supplement is not in place for April. What can renters do who are struggling to make rent for April 1?
It’s best to up front and to talk to your landlord as soon as possible if you’re unable to pay the rent. If you can pay part of your rent but maybe not your entire rent, there’s some negotiating room there for you and your landlord to maybe come up with payment plan to tie you over until these rental subsidies comes into place.
If renters are going to do that, I highly recommend that they have these conversations with their landlord and put their agreement in writing and have both parties sign it so that both parties are aware of what was agreed to and they can look back at it if anything changes.
Q: When does the rent freeze go into effect? For example, if you already received your notice of rent increase in February, but your rent doesn’t technically go up until May, is your rent frozen at the February level or the May level?
The rent will be frozen at the February level.
If a tenant was given notice of a rental increase that was meant to come into effect during this period, it will not happen for the duration of the emergency order. Also, landlords can’t issue new rental increases during this period.
There are situations where the increase may still be allowed, like if the rental increase is tied to how many occupants are in the unit.
Q: Does the rent freeze also include residents in social subsidized housing?
When it comes to subsidized housing, often the rent is tied to how many occupants are in the unit. If the rent increase is due to more occupants in the unit, then no, that rent would not be frozen and the rent increase could happen.
Q: For people with disabilities who already receive income assistance, are they eligible for the $500 rental rebate?
If you’re on disability and that disability includes shelter allowance, that shelter allowance would not have changed because of this new subsidy. You will still be receiving it. But unfortunately renters who are receiving the shelter allowance from income assistance or disability will not eligible for the $500 supplement.
Q: What kind of recourse do landlords have if they rely on rent from rental properties to pay their own mortgage?
There are a lot of landlords who are in the situation where they rely on the rent to meet their own mortgage payment. This rental supplement is meant to go directly to the landlord to assist. It does put landlords in a tight spot for April if you’re unable to get your rent payments. You might want to speak to your mortgage provider to see if there’s any deferral of payment that may be applicable for you or talk to your lenders to see if you can get some assistance that way.
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