How COVID-19 has forged new friendships

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Candice Makhan never accepts Facebook friends she doesn’t know. For some reason, she decided to accept a random request from Ruth Castellanos.

Both got sick in the spring and joined a Facebook support group for those with lingering COVID-like symptoms. So Castellanos reached out and started sharing. Turns out neither tested positive for the virus, though they’ve still been able to bond over the experience, swapping support and stories of similar symptoms they’re still having.

“At least something positive came out of it,” said Castellanos, who lives in Flamborough, Ont., near Hamilton.

Making new friends seems unlikely right now, with the pleas to stay home and apart. But the pandemic has forged new friendships like this one that probably wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

Both Makhan and Castellanos are still off work, shuttling between specialist appointments and uncertain what’s going on with their bodies. Makhan says it means a lot to have someone who understands what she’s going through. She knows family and friends mean well, but Castellanos just gets her, she says.

How COVID-19 has forged new friendships
Makhan and Castellanos did not know each other before the pandemic — and they’ve yet to meet in person. They are building their friendship by messaging back and forth on Facebook, sharing medical updates, support and inspirational videos. (Submitted by Candice Makhan)

“We can share a lot of experiences that are very common. Some frustrations, some disappointments, some excitements,” she said.

It’s a slow-burning friendship. They’ve mostly messaged about COVID-19 but are gradually learning more about each other’s personal lives — their families, how they ended up where they are, their hopes for the future.

“I don’t think that once we’re better this [the friendship] is going to end … I’ve made a really good friend here,” said Castellanos. “We’re just really listening to one another and helping each other out.”

Other COVID friendships have been sparked out of necessity. When the pandemic started, Dr. Tony Stone reached out to Dr. Robert Kyle about starting a response table, to co-ordinate community efforts.

The men knew of one another. Kyle is Durham Region’s medical health officer while Stone is a family doctor and chief of staff at Lakeridge Health, which runs several hospitals. But they didn’t know each well. Kyle blames the “silos” among health-care professionals.

But the two clicked and have been working closely ever since, trying to break down those silos.

How COVID-19 has forged new friendships
COVID-19 has taken over the lives of Dr. Robert Kyle, top, and Dr. Tony Stone. But it’s also brought them together as new friends. (Haydn Watters/CBC)

“There are a lot of saints out there that are giving it their all … and Tony is certainly one of those,” said Kyle.

They were brought even closer together dealing with Orchard Villa, the worst-hit long-term care home in the province, where the military was sent in and 70 residents died during the virus’ first wave.

Kyle credits their new friendship for being able to send Stone’s team in to temporarily manage the facility.

“It’s always a blessing when you meet someone with shared values, shared passions and a common commitment,” he said. 

They are eager for the day when they can talk about more than just COVID-19 and even hang out together in person, perhaps for one of Kyle’s morning runs — he runs eight kilometres every day.

“I just got to get a bit more fit so I can keep up with him,” said Stone.

LISTEN | Pandemic brings new friends together:

Ontario Morning from CBC Radio7:04How COVID brought these new friends together

Making a new friend … in the middle of a pandemic? It may sound wild with all the restrictions in place. But for some, COVID-19 has forged friendships. Haydn Watters introduces us to some new friends. 7:04

Because COVID-19 is at the crux of these new friendships, it gives them someone they can freely talk with about the virus — so their families don’t have to hear about it all the time.

New friends Shalu Bains and epidemiologist Laura Rosella will sneak calls about it late at night. They’re in touch every single day.

“Definitely the first text [of the day] is to Laura. The last text of the night is to Laura,” said Bains, a vice-president at Trillium Health Partners, which has hospitals in Ontario’s hard-hit Peel Region and Etobicoke.

“Sometimes … [it’s] very work related. And sometimes it will be a head-exploding emoji,” added Rosella, an associate professor at the University of Toronto.

Like Stone and Kyle, they were familiar with each other before the pandemic. When it started, Bains reached out to Rosella to discuss hospital data and analytics. Now, they talk about everything.

Both have a young child around the same age and say they feel guilty about not getting them to bed earlier. They recently learned they both live in Mississauga, only about 10 minutes away from each other.

How COVID-19 has forged new friendships
Shalu Bains, left, and Laura Rosella knew of each other before the pandemic, but didn’t really know what each other did. COVID-19 has made them fast friends. (Haydn Watters/CBC)

“You need these types of relationships to build a resiliency, ’cause it’s not going away anytime soon,” said Bains. “We really developed trust and respect and confidence for each other.”

For now, it remains a virtual friendship, growing over text, phone calls, on Zoom. They often think about what will happen when they finally get to meet together in person, as friends.

“You’re definitely getting a big hug,” said Rosella. “I’m a big hugger.”

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Have you made a new COVID friend?

Perhaps it’s a grocery store clerk or a neighbour you didn’t know. Or maybe you met someone in the park or the line to get a COVID-19 test. Email [email protected] about your new pandemic friendship.

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