Nearly five years ago, Yassin Dabeh’s family fled war-torn Syria for a better life in Canada.
Now the family has been confronted with the unspeakable horror of watching Dabeh become the youngest person in the Middlesex-London area to die after being diagnosed with COVID-19.
Dabeh, 19, worked as a contract cleaner at the Middlesex Terrace Long Term Care home in Delaware, Ont., just west of London, and died after contracting the virus, said Mohamad Fakih, a businessman and philanthropist, who spoke with the young man’s father.
“In 2016, they arrived as immigrants from Syria,” said Fakih, CEO of Paramount Fine Foods, who reached out to the grieving family to offer financial assistance for the funeral. “He said that the community came together and paid for the funeral.”
Fakih said the teenager, who had three brothers and one sister, died on Thursday and was buried on Friday.
To honour Dabeh’s life in his own way, Fakih asked the organizers of a biweekly community outreach event in which 500 meals are cooked for those in need in Regent Park, if Sunday’s event could be held in Dabeh’s memory. They agreed.
Fakih said Dabeh’s father cried when he told him the meals would be served in his son’s honour.
“People need to feel that they’re not alone, especially if they’re refugees,” said Fakih, an immigrant himself who came to Canada from Lebanon more than 20 years ago. “We want to show them that … Canadians, we’re all one big family and they’re not alone. He was very appreciative, the father.”
Details around Dabeh’s death, and its cause, are still emerging.
Dr. Alex Summers, Middlesex-London Health Unit’s associate medical officer of health, told the Star he couldn’t confirm Dabeh’s identity, but only that a male between the ages of 10 and 19 who worked at a long-term-care home had died after testing positive for the virus.
“Obviously a death amongst somebody recently diagnosed with COVID in this age group is a surprise to many and something that is tragic,” said Summers, adding that the deceased was the youngest individual in the health unit region to have died after being diagnosed with COVID-19.
“The public health unit investigation is primarily on understanding where individuals contracted an infectious disease such as COVID and where it might be spread and trying to intervene to limit transmission,” he noted.
He said that the case in question was considered “resolved,” meaning that the patient was no longer infectious.
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“Certainly COVID as a virus can have implications for people well beyond whether or not somebody’s infectious,” Summers said. “Sometimes the repercussions can extend beyond the infectious period certainly. In this instance, all I can share is unfortunately a person of that age recently diagnosed with COVID has passed away.”
According to the Middlesex-London Health Unit, an outbreak was declared at the Middlesex Terrace Long Term Care Home on Dec. 23 and remains “active.” The number of infections at the home is not published.
In the health unit as a whole, there have been 601 COVID-19 cases, 292 of which have been among residents and 309 in staff members, as well as 79 deaths.
Mary Raithby, CEO of APANS Health Services, the company that owns the network of homes to which Middlesex Terrance belongs, said in an email to the Star that “we extend our deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Yassin.”
“Out of respect for their loss and grief, we are declining any interview or statement requests at this time,” she said.
Unifor Local 302, which represents employees at Middlesex Terrace, told the Star that Dabeh was not one of its members, but that it sends its “deepest sympathies to this young man’s family and friends.”
Some politicians took to social media Sunday to express their thoughts on Dabeh’s death.
On Twitter, federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh called Dabeh’s death “a tragedy.”
“Essential workers are at risk every day,” Singh wrote. “Paid sick days, faster vaccine rollout and access to PPE are needed urgently — to save lives.”
“My sincerest condolences to this young man’s family, friends, & loved ones — and all victims of COVID-19,” tweeted London mayor Ed Holder. “The virus doesn’t discriminate based on age, gender, race, religion, or creed. Everybody needs to take this seriously, otherwise anybody can find themselves at risk.”
Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at the Sinai Health System and University Health Network, said the vast majority of young people who get COVID-19 experience mild, asymptomatic courses. But he said there is a very small segment of young people who get serious and hard-to-treat bouts of the virus that require hospitalization.
“One of the biggest reasons people die due to influenza is not actually due to influenza but because influenza can actually trigger other issues,” he said. “For a lot of older people, influenza can actually trigger a pneumonia or a co-infection with something like pneumonia. It can also, if you have something like heart disease, trigger you to actually have a heart attack or other things.”
Sinha noted that it is really hard to say at this stage what may have happened to Dabeh.
“It could have been something completely unrelated … or it might have been that COVID-19 triggered something else or caused something else to get worse.”
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