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This young Edmonton man died of COVID-19. His friend says the human toll of pandemic is lost in the numbers

Desmond Jarvis Brandon died of COVID-19, alone in an isolation ward of an Edmonton hospital. 

He was 36.

He developed a cough early this month. Fewer than two weeks later, on November 13, Brandon would succumb to the disease at the University of Alberta Hospital. 

He is among seven Albertans under the age of 40 to die of COVID-19 as the death toll in Alberta reached 500.

“I hope this makes it more real for people,” said Carl Lovestrom, Brandon’s friend. 

Brandon had diabetes but was otherwise healthy, Lovestrom said.

“Desmond was a real person, he was 36-years-old. He did not have to die.” 

Brandon was known to follow COVID-19 precautions, encouraging his friends to wear masks. (Desmond Jarvis Brandon/Facebook)

Lovestrom said Brandon’s death should serve as a wake-up call, a reminder of the deadly consequences of the virus, even among those who are young, healthy and following health guidelines. 

Lovestrom said discussions around the low mortality rates of COVID-19 neglect the devastating cost of the virus. The human toll of the pandemic is often lost in the numbers, he said. 

“These people think that they know better. It’s beyond frustrating. It really makes me angry when I stop to think about it. 

“I just think that people talk about these low percentage point fatality rates and those sort of things, and I think that what they’re forgetting when they see those numbers, those numbers represent real people. Those numbers represent people like Desmond.” 

Lovestrom said Desmond had dutifully followed COVID-19 restrictions and health protocols. He always wore a mask when out in public, cut down on his social interactions and practised physical distancing. 

When he got sick, he documented his illness on social media. As he developed symptoms and tested positive, even after he was admitted to hospital, he continued to post updates to his friends on Facebook.

He posted photographs of his isolation room and reported on the quality of the hospital food and described his symptoms in detail. 

He wanted people to realize, you know, this is real, this is happening right now, and we have the power to do something about it.– Carl Lovestrom

“He was big into masks and he was big into social distancing and all of the other restrictions that we put in place to protect ourselves from COVID-19,” Lovestrom said. 

“Part of the reason that he was posting so much was because he wanted people to realize, you know, this is real, this is happening right now, and we have the power to do something about it.” 

Brandon and Lovestrom pose in this 2009 photo. The pair met while working at a bar in downtown Edmonton. (Desmond Jarvis Brandon/Facebook)

The men met in 2009 while working together at a nightclub in downtown Edmonton. Lovestrom was a server. Brandon was a barback. 

They were working together the night Lovestrom met his wife, and would often hang out after their shifts. They remained in touch over the years. 

Lovestrom said Brandon was generous, strong and outspoken with a wry sense of humour. 

He was always full of life, laughing and cracking jokes. 

“He was the guy who, you’d be at a party and he’d say something snarky, some snarky little comment on the other side of the room, and that side of the room would just erupt in laughter and you’d just be sitting there on the other side wondering what you’d missed.” 

‘This cruel pandemic’ 

Brandon’s wake was held on Sunday near his family home in Waywayseecappo First Nation, in Manitoba. 

A small number of family and friends gathered for a traditional ceremony, a gathering kept small and socially distanced by pandemic restrictions. 

His mother, Priscilla Brandon, described her late son as a “sweet angel.”  She said she wanted to visit her son when he fell ill but he advised her against it. 

“My Dez followed the rules and regulations of this cruel pandemic,” she said. 

She said her son was laid to rest in a family ceremony marked by traditional singing and blessings from an elder.

“As you enter the spirit world, my Dez, remember that I love you so, so much,” she wrote in a tribute on Facebook. 

“You took part of me with you.” 

Family was deeply important to Brandon, Lovestrom said. 

“I’ve been fortunate enough to talk to his family a lot recently, and I found that even from two provinces away from his family, he was the glue that was holding them together.

“And what I didn’t fully appreciate at the time when I knew him is he was making us here in Edmonton all his family.” 

Lovestrom said Brandon’s death has made him reassess the risks he’s willing to take. He supports the new restrictions in Alberta, and believes Brandon would have too.

Lovestrom only wishes the province would have clamped down sooner. 

“Doing the bare legal minimum might not be enough,” he said. “Especially when we have people who still refuse to do anything, it might be up to the responsible ones of us to do more. 

“Obviously what we have going right now is not working. It’s failing us and it failed him.” 

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