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Canada COVID-19: A pastor from Singapore triggered a 'super spreader' event and now a Calgary man is fighting for his life

08:50  25 march  2020
08:50  25 march  2020 Source:   calgaryherald.com

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Jason Kenney wearing a suit and tie smiling at the camera: Local businessman and volunteer Jay Chowdhury is in hospital fighting for his life as he battles COVID-19. Local businessman and volunteer Jay Chowdhury is in hospital fighting for his life as he battles COVID-19.

Mere days before their 2001 wedding, Jay Chowdhury almost didn’t make it to the altar.

After nearly drowning in a swimming pool, he was rushed to hospital. Doctors advised his bride-to-be it might be best to call off their plans.

“They told me his lungs were filled with water, there was no hope,” says Jyoti Chowdhury. “But I knew how strong Jay was, that he would make it.”

This week, Jyoti’s husband of nearly two decades is once again in the fight of his life, as one of the more than 300 Albertans who have contracted the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19.

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While the lion’s share of those who test positive experience symptoms mild enough to recover at home, Jay Chowdhury wasn’t so lucky. He is currently in the intensive care unit at a Calgary hospital, on a ventilator and in what his wife says is an induced coma.

On Monday, doctors told her that while her husband’s condition is serious, there is still hope for recovery.

The sudden turn of fortune for the 52-year-old father of three boys has jolted the local South Asian community, which has long counted on Chowdhury as a dedicated volunteer.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney wrote about his situation this past Sunday on Twitter: “Jay is a model citizen. He came to Canada with a beautiful family and big dreams. All his kids are in the cadets. He constantly volunteers for charitable causes.”

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Jasah Singh Halan, a Conservative MP whose riding is in Forest Lawn, calls Jay, who serves on the Calgary Forest Lawn board, “a tireless volunteer, community member, father, husband and Christian.”

Khurram Khowaja, who works with Jay at a local insurance company, describes him as “a gem of a person.”

Jay, who back in his native India worked for Habitat for Humanity, is currently employed as an account executive for a local insurance company. In his spare time, though, he is just as busy organizing a variety of events in the city, along with being the project director of uTurn Project, a local charity that provides programs for new Canadians and needy people around the world.

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He also currently serves as pastor for the Calgary Christian Tamil Church, which is associated with the Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada.

The small congregation has no physical church, renting space for Sunday services at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Calgary’s northwest. Friday prayer meetings, which usually see about 20 to 25 church members, are conducted in the homes of congregants.

Jay’s wife and three boys, ages 10, 12 and 18 haven’t been able to go to the hospital to check in on the much-loved husband and father. Not long after he tested positive for COVID-19, they all fell ill and tested positive. They now know he contracted the virus at one of those prayer meetings in a private residence on March 6.

On that same day, Alberta reported its first presumptive case of COVID-19, a Calgary woman who had just returned from a journey on the Grand Princess cruise ship.

Also at that time, Alberta’s chief medical officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw said that the risk to Albertans from COVID-19 was low; a week later, Dr. Hinshaw would announce a ban on gatherings of 250 or more, which by March 21 would be amended to gatherings of 50.

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A pastor from Singapore was the featured guest at the March 6 prayer meeting. That visitor would trigger what is now known as a “super spreader” COVID-19 event — initially 10 people were thought to have been infected, but the number would increase as church members went home and passed the virus to their family members. Health officials have said the single gathering is now linked to at least 34 positive tests.

Paul David, past chairman of the board for the church, was among the approximately 25 people at the prayer meeting.

“I know of two others who were also hospitalized, but I am told they are now out of ICU,” says David, who was alerted by Alberta Health Services several days after the meeting and is currently symptom-free but self-isolating.

“Jay is a very good guy who loves the lord,” says David of his long-time friend, who became symptomatic within 48 hours of the March 6 prayer meeting. “He does so much for so many, I pray he will be OK.”

As for Jay’s wife and children, they are currently quarantined in their northeast Calgary home, depending on the kindness of their fellow Tamil Christian church congregants and other friends for groceries and other necessities.

“It is hard to imagine how just one person with this virus can change so many lives,” says Jyoti of the meeting, where congregants greet one another with handshakes; her own symptoms are mild but causing her much anxiety and fear as she awaits daily word on her husband. “It’s not affecting my boys much, they’re as active as ever around the house.”

Still, her family’s current crisis is one she wouldn’t wish on anyone. “Wash your hands, practice social distancing,” says the woman who trained to be a nurse in India.

“I just want to pray for everyone, for whoever is going through this situation,” she says, adding: “there are many people like us, going through this in our city.”

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