- On breaks in his 12-hour testing clinic shift, Janvier Korongo can take off his mask and gloves.
For leading Nova Scotia through a particularly brutal first wave of COVID-19, premier Stephen McNeil and chief medical officer of health Robert Strang earned heaps of praise in the BOH survey. "Even though I am not a Liberal government supporter," said a typical comment, "I think the premier and Dr. Strang have done a fantastic job."
But as McNeil and Strang would be the first to say, they didn't win that fight alone. Every time Strang says to call 811 about your symptoms, a frontline healthcare worker answers the phone. When you need to be tested, a frontline worker is holding the swab. And if you wonder how a hospital avoids becoming a coronavirus breeding ground, a frontliner like Janvier Korongo is way ahead of you.
Korongo, now 37 years old, is originally from Congo. There he experienced war, which killed his parents and forced him to flee his home. And the threat of disease—highly lethal ebola. And while living in a refugee camp in Uganda, he acutely felt what it means to have a corrupt government that cares little about the weakest people in its society.
After more than 10 years in the refugee camp, he was able to immigrate to Halifax in 2016. He went to school and in 2018 took a job in housekeeping at the QE2 Health Sciences Centre. Then last February, the hospital asked for volunteers to deal with disinfecting medical areas around C19 patients. Korongo accepted immediately, the first to step forward.
"They thought I was joking," he says, but he was being realistic. Supporting his sister and her seven kids, who live in Rwanda, Korongo needs opportunities to work. Plus he feels a duty to help—protecting people from the disease suits him well. "If you get it out there," he says, gesturing toward the world beyond the testing clinic where he's currently assigned, "that's fine. My project every day is to make sure you do not get it here."