Flight attendants feel guilty when they are part of the chain of infection. They become infected from the passengers and spread to their families.
One spring afternoon, Gabrielle Wilson, walking with her children, was suddenly tired.
“It came very abruptly. I had to sit down on the sidewalk,” the veteran flight attendant told the Guardian . Her muscles ached all over and her throat was “strangely dry,” a feeling she had never before.
Ms. Wilson is a flight attendant for Air Canada. She asked not to use her real name when talking to the Guardian . She recently completed flights from Toronto, Canada to Frankfurt, Germany and back. Accustomed to the frequent discomfort that occurred in her work, she ignored the symptoms above.
“I am not a person who thinks I am sick. I don’t think I was infected with coronavirus or anything else, ”she shared.
However, that night, she had a fever and her chest tightened as if “someone was pulling a string from the sides of her lungs”.
By the next morning, with a weak and cold body, Wilson’s calm gave way to panic.
The risk of cross-contamination on aircraft
For several days, she was isolated in the basement. But her family also started to show symptoms. This made Wilson realize that she may have been infected with Covid-19.
Wilson’s experience shows that what many in her career consider dangerous. The virus easily spreads between passengers and crew members in the same enclosed space for hours on long-haul flights.
When the government closed the border and advised its citizens to return home, Wilson worried that infected crew members – some of whom would remain asymptomatic – could become “super contagious” people infected ”and spread the virus to more people.
When Wilson first realized something was wrong, she refused to go to the hospital because she was worried that she was adding an unnecessary burden to Canada’s health care system. The country’s health system was already under the pressure of the first wave of Covid-19 patients.
However, she changed her mind after talking to her lung doctor. She was tested for the Covid-19 virus at a hospital in Toronto. The doctors told her to go home and quarantine herself while waiting for the results.
“I had sleepless nights. This does not help me in overcoming any illness. I think of my family, but I can only see them through FaceTime, ”Ms. Wilson said. Her only interaction with her family is through meals placed at the top of the basement stairs.
After six days, test results showed that Wilson was infected with the virus. But later, Wilson learned that she was not the only one on the flight infected.
Seven other Air Canada employees – two deadhead pilots and five flight attendants – tested positive for Covid-19 after their return from Germany.
The crew flew on a Boeing 777-300, the company’s largest aircraft. Depending on configuration, this aircraft can carry up to 450 passengers.
Two positive pilots were in business class. They fly to another airport for missions. And Wilson works at the end of the plane.
“This led me to believe that a lot of people were infected with Covid-19 on that flight,” she said.
“We become part of the infection chain”
ilson’s family also began to experience symptoms such as fever, shortness of breath, and body aches.
While fighting fevers and body aches, Ms. Wilson was also filled with guilt. She believes that if she acted earlier and realized the symptoms were Covid-19, she could avoid spreading the infection to her two daughters and her husband.
Although the symptoms of Ms. Wilson’s family are very mild compared to the thousands of hospitalized and intubated patients who have been infected with Covid-19, the virus has also caused great mental damage.
“I try to read as little as possible about Covid-19 because we are all living with it. The uncertainty only affects your mental health, ”she told Guardian. “For many days, I could not sleep. This is very difficult ”.
As more flight attendants and their families tested positive for Covid-19, Air Canada significantly increased precautions on flights.
In-flight services have been limited to minimize interaction with passengers. The crew is also provided with an N95 mask and surgical gloves.
The company also screens passengers and will refuse to board passengers if there are any symptoms.
The union representing the flight attendant said the move was not enough. They think that face shields and protective gear are also needed. At least 14 flight attendants in Canada were positive for the virus and hundreds more were isolated after exposure was suspected.
Wilson, who is temporarily dismissed from work with 16,000 other Air Canada employees, is skeptical of policies to prevent Covid-19 from spreading.
“If I have symptoms, I can get on the plane undetected. If you do not need to go to intensive care or use a ventilator, you can completely go to the sewing machine without showing any symptoms, ”Ms. Wilson said. “Headaches or fever, all of which disappear with drugs like Tylenol and ibuprofen.”
Wilson also did not believe she could avoid being infected with the virus. She wore gloves, washed her hands and minimized contact with passengers but remained infected.
New studies for viruses can spread very easily, so such precautions may not be enough.
“We got the virus from passengers. That is a fact, ”she said. “But now, we are part of the infection chain. We are “super contagious” people while people are flying home madly. “
A positive side of having a positive result for the whole family is that Wilson was able to leave the basement to isolate with her husband and daughter. They are also slowly recovering, but anxiety will still have a lasting impact.
“Every time we feel better, I read a story about a dying person and I get nervous. I was just scared, ”she said.
“I am also worried about how this disease may affect my relatives. It may affect my sister or my brother or my mother. This is heartbreaking, ”Ms. Wilson shared.