Brampton, Ont., teen among youngest Canadians to die with COVID-19

A teenage girl in Brampton, Ont., is among the youngest Canadians to die with COVID-19 after her family said she contracted the coronavirus amid the province’s devastating third wave. 

Emily Victoria Viegas, 13, died on April 22, according to an online fundraiser launched in her memory that’s raised more than $80,000 for her grieving family.

Family friend Adrian Goddard, who organized the fundraiser, told CBC News that Viegas had contracted COVID-19 as well as pneumonia. Her mother is currently in intensive care with COVID-19, Goddard said, while her younger brother is also infected and in isolation, but doing OK.

Dr. Andrew Healey, William Osler Health System’s interim corporate chief of emergency medicine, said Monday afternoon that this is the first person under the age of 19 who has died in their health system.

“We extend our deepest condolences to her family, and our thoughts are with them at this incredibly difficult time,” he said.

Healey, who is also chair of the health system’s COVID clinical response committee, said he couldn’t speak to if Viegas had any pre-existing health conditions. He did note, however, that in the last 24 hours, he has admitted five people with COVID-19 to the intensive care unit, and that three of those people had no previous health conditions.

Dr. Dirk Huyer, Ontario’s chief coroner, confirmed Monday that the province is investigating the teen’s death.

“What a tragedy,” he said. “My heart goes out to the family and all of those that knew her. And we’re really trying to understand the circumstances more clearly.”

Speaking with CBC Radio’s Metro Morning, Huyer said it’s unclear if Viegas was sickened by one of the coronavirus variants of concern, which have been found to be more transmissible and more likely to cause serious illness and death. Variants of concern now account for a considerable majority of new infections driving the third wave of the pandemic in Ontario.

Many emergency physicians and critical care nurses have said that, anecdotally, the demographics of patients sick with COVID-19 being admitted to ICUs has skewed younger during the third wave.

WATCH | CBC’s Greg Ross reports on reaction to the death of Emily Victoria Viegas: 

A Brampton teen is among the youngest Canadians to die with COVID-19. Emily Victoria Viegas, 13, died on April 22, according to an online fundraiser launched in her memory. Greg Ross has more on the teen’s life — and reaction to her death. 2:22

Dr. Kali Barrett, a critical care physician at University Health Network in Toronto, told CBC News last week that ICUs are increasingly filled with essential workers and their family members.

Even so, severe illness and death from COVID-19 among the youngest Canadians has been exceedingly rare. According to national statistics, of the 208,195 people aged 19 and under who have been infected, 955 were admitted to hospital. Of those, 142 needed intensive care. 

Eight Canadians 19 and under have died with the disease, including three in Ontario.

Death ‘truly heartbreaking,’ leaders say

A spokesperson confirmed that Viegas was a student in the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board (DPCDSB).

“This is a loss to the entire DPCDSB community. At this time, we are focusing on supporting staff and students and respecting the privacy of the grieving family,” the board said in an email.

WATCH | Doctor says girl’s death is heartbreaking, system is overwhelmed:

The death of a 13-year old girl in Brampton, Ont., from COVID-19 illustrates how ‘neighbourhoods on fire’ are being neglected, says Dr. Andrew Boozary, the executive director of the University Health Network Social Medicine program. 7:01

In a statement released Monday morning, Premier Doug Ford said his “heart absolutely breaks for this family.”

“I can’t imagine the unbearable pain and sorrow they are feeling right now,” Ford said. “It’s heart-wrenching and a devastating reminder of what this virus can do. On behalf of all Ontarians, I’m sending my deepest condolences to everyone who is suffering from the terrible loss of this young life.”

Brampton’s hospital has been treating a huge number of COVID-19 patients throughout the pandemic. (Christopher Mulligan/CBC)

Across Peel Region, which has been especially hard hit throughout the pandemic, the girl’s death came as a shock to political leaders.

Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown called Viegas’s death “beyond heart wrenching” on Twitter.

“As a parent, I am lost for words. Horrifying,” he said.

Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie also wished the family well. “To lose someone so young to this virus is truly heartbreaking,” she said.

Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown tells Power & Politics he is devastated by the death of Emily Victoria Viegas, one of the youngest victims of the virus in Canada. 1:03

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