How COVID-19 has forged new friendships

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Candice Makhan never accepts Facebook friends she doesn't know. For some reason, she decided to accept a random request from Ruth Castellanos.

Both got sick in the spring and joined a Facebook support group for those with lingering COVID-like symptoms. So Castellanos reached out and started sharing. Turns out neither tested positive for the virus, though they've still been able to bond over the experience, swapping support and stories of similar symptoms they're still having.

"At least something positive came out of it," said Castellanos, who lives in Flamborough, Ont., near Hamilton.

Making new friends seems unlikely right now, with the pleas to stay home and apart. But the pandemic has forged new friendships like this one that probably wouldn't have happened otherwise.

Both Makhan and Castellanos are still off work, shuttling between specialist appointments and uncertain what's going on with their bodies. Makhan says it means a lot to have someone who understands what she's going through. She knows family and friends mean well, but Castellanos just gets her, she says.

"We can share a lot of experiences that are very common. Some frustrations, some disappointments, some excitements," she said.

It's a slow-burning friendship. They've mostly messaged about COVID-19 but are gradually learning more about each other's personal lives — their families, how they ended up where they are, their hopes for the future.

"I don't think that once we're better this [the friendship] is going to end … I've made a really good friend here," said Castellanos. "We're just really listening to one another and helping each other out."

Other COVID friendships have been sparked out of necessity. When the pandemic started, Dr. Tony Stone reached out to Dr. Robert Kyle about starting a response table, to co-ordinate community efforts.

The men knew of one another. Kyle is Durham Region's medical health officer while Stone is a family doctor and chief of staff at Lakeridge Health, which runs several hospitals. But they didn't know each well. Kyle blames the "silos" among health-care professionals.

But the two clicked and have been working closely ever since, trying to break down those silos.