Toronto residents were quick to embrace the holiday spirit after Omicron’s success: ‘We can be creative’

Although he may have been exposed to the virus a few days earlier, Paul McCaughey was not concerned and was moving forward with his plans to host a dinner for friends who had been “orphaned” by COVID vacation plans.

He went for the test, but he was triply aroused, had no symptoms, and the person he had been with that day in the cafeteria found him to be negative.

“Okay, okay,” McCaughey, 63, recalls thinking as he logged onto Toronto’s public health website Thursday to verify his test results. “I too must be negative.”

But it was not like that.

And so McCaughey had to cancel his Christmas.

He was not alone.

Over the past week, it seemed like everyone was forced to change their plans. As Omicron asserts itself in town, spreading at breakneck speeds, this aggressive variant has left a trail of derailed plans and ruined vacations.

Latoya Sousa was looking forward to having dinner with all of her siblings on Christmas Eve. But less than an hour before the meeting, one of her sisters tested positive. Another had been exposed earlier that day at work.

“It really took the joy out of everything,” Sousa said. “It felt like we were walking in the footsteps without celebrating this year.”

Instead of spending the weekend at home, playing games and opening gifts with her six siblings, her mother was busy packing the pineapple ham and Portuguese meat, and handing it to her older sister and relatives in town.

Adam Castor, kitchen manager for Brass Taps Pizza Pub, had to do the same. But instead of preparing takeout for the family for the weekend, he was busy turning the Christmas dinner he had been planning – and cooking – into relief packages for the residents of a local homeless shelter. Management had planned to host an in-person dinner, but decided at the last minute that it was too risky.

Less than a week ago, a staff member tested positive, forcing the College Street restaurant to close immediately, right in the middle of dinner service and the football game.

After that, Caster said, doing anything in person felt too risky. “We didn’t want to risk it becoming a high-profile event.”

While he was sad, Caster did get a taste of the Christmas spirit. When he realized he didn’t have enough takeout boxes for the entire meal, he called an industry website and within hours another restaurant showed up with a donation.

“He was so generous,” he said. “Those boxes are not cheap. It was great that they did that. ”

Even though Dara Moncarz’s family has had its share of Christmas troubles for the past week (they had to cancel their ski trip to Alberta twice after two of their three children were exposed at different times) she is happier to prevent than to cure.

Every day, he said, he receives another call from someone who has COVID or somehow knows who just tested positive. The situation seems too uncertain to risk, especially to get out of the city.

“We can just be creative and find ways to be together and be outdoors and be active,” he said. “We don’t need to go and risk someone getting sick.”

Ivan Pejic, 40, feels the same way. A volunteer Santa Claus who discovered on Friday that he had been close to someone who tested positive that same day, did not hesitate to withdraw from the family dinner at Christmas.

“As much as I want to see them, I just couldn’t,” he said. “So I told them bluntly ‘unfortunately I can’t do it. We need to be as safe as possible. ‘ “

Pejic was sad, especially as he loves dressing up in Santa’s outfit and entertaining his nephews, until he realized that being home offered him a way to get like Santa online, via social media. Instead of getting depressed, she spent Christmas Eve letting the kids video chat with Santa.

“It is very rare that I can interact with children after receiving their gifts,” he said. “It was great! I’m going to start doing it every year.”

Paul McCaughey was grateful to receive a Christmas relief package from his daughter Brynon McCaughey (right) and his friend Jan Ohm (left) after contracting COVID.

McCaughey doesn’t know what the next year will bring, but admits that it was difficult at first to come to terms with having to cancel the “abandoned children and orphans dinner,” as he called it. Even though he had initially planned to spend the holidays mostly alone (he’s a estranged father without much of a family), he was excited to have plans.

He was sad, he said, and felt empty and lonely for the next few hours, when he finished telling his friends and daughter that he wouldn’t be able to see them for the weekend. Her spirits perked up a bit when a relative texted her to say she was on her way to drop off food.

But instead of the relative, it was his daughter, dressed as an elf, carrying a giant basket of goodies.

“It was the most amazing experience,” McCaughey said. “At that point in time, when I am at my most vulnerable, I was receiving love and care.”

Michele Henry is a Toronto-based Star reporter who writes stories on health and education. Follow her on Twitter: @michelehenry

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