COVID-19 death of girl, 13, in Brampton, Ont., sparks deluge of grief, generosity

By Colin Perkel

A 13-year-old girl’s death from COVID-19 at her home in Brampton, Ont., while her mother lay in hospital with the disease sparked an outpouring of grief, anger and community generosity on Monday.

Emily Viegas died last Thursday after her father, an essential worker, tried to care for her in the family apartment.

Premier Doug Ford, who has come under scathing criticism for his past refusal to implement paid sick leave for essential workers, expressed condolences for the “terrible loss of this young life.” Ford called it a “heart-wrenching and a devastating reminder” of the what the virus can do.

“My heart breaks for this family,” Ford said in a statement. “I can’t imagine the unbearable pain and sorrow they are feeling right now.”

According to the Globe and Mail newspaper, Emily had for a week been showing symptoms similar to those that had put her mother in hospital with coronavirus disease. Her vaccinated father, the family bread winner who worked in a warehouse, feared the strapped local hospital would be unable to treat his daughter and opted to keep her at home, where her brother also lives, and try to nurse her back to health.

Instead, Emily became one of the country’s youngest pandemic victims.

“It felt real when I found her in bed,” Carlos Viegas told the Globe. “I put my head to her chest and I couldn’t feel nothing. No heartbeat. No nothing. No breathing.”

Brampton has been particularly hard hit by COVID-19 due to several workplace outbreaks. Several area politicians took to social media to express their condolences.

“This is beyond heart wrenching,” said Patrick Brown, Mayor of Brampton. “As a parent, I am lost for words. Horrifying. We can never underestimate the seriousness of COVID-19 and the variants.”

Similarly, Mayor Bonnie Crombie of neighbouring Mississauga, Ont., called the loss of someone so young to the virus “truly heartbreaking.”

New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath called Emily’s death “absolutely gut-wrenching.”

Gurratan Singh, the provincial NDP representative from Brampton East, said the city was in a pandemic “crisis,” with people dying at an alarming rate. Brampton has also lagged in terms of access to vaccines, said Singh, who accused the Ford government of abandoning the city just northwest of Toronto.

In response, Health Minister Christine Elliott said Brampton had received “significant assistance.”

“There is no suggestion that they’re receiving any less than they’re entitled to,” Elliott said at the legislature, where a minute of silence was held Monday.

“Emily’s death is truly a tragedy.”

Last week, Ontario’s chief coroner Dirk Huyer said more people were dying suddenly at home from COVID-19 without having called for an ambulance. Huyer said it was too soon to explain why that might be happening.

The Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board confirmed Emily attended one of its schools. The board said it was focusing on supporting staff and students hit by the loss.

Adrian Goddard, a friend of the Emily’s father who organized the fundraising campaign, said the money would go to pay funeral and burial costs.

“Please keep her in your thoughts and prayers at this difficult and unfortunate time,” Goddard wrote on the fundraising page.

Emily’s father was a well-known local ball hockey referee. The league, too, expressed its sympathies.

“We regret to inform you that Carlos Viegas lost his daughter Emily Victoria Viegas to COVID this past week and she was only 13 years old,” the Ontario Ball Hockey Association said in a tweet to the ball hockey community.

A crowdfunding initiative to raise money for the stricken family topped more than $60,000, far in excess of its initial $10,000 target.