Shirley Egerbeen had only lived at Forest Heights Long Term Care for two and a half months when she died, with no one at her bedside, sometime in the early morning of April 22.
She had been diagnosed with COVID-19 a couple weeks before.
Her surrogate daughter, Tracy Rowley, received a call at 4:30 a.m. with the news of Egerbeen’s death. She says she was given three hours to arrange for Egerbeen’s body to be moved to a funeral home.
Rowley told HuffPost Canada her first question that morning was, “Was she alone?”
It’s painful to think that not only did she die alone, you can’t even tell me how long she might have been dying …Tracy Rowley
“The lady said, ‘We went in to check her dressing at four o’clock and she was not breathing.’ Therefore she was alone. How long was she lying there not breathing? I don’t know,” Rowley said.
“It’s painful to think that not only did she die alone, you can’t even tell me how long she might have been dying, like might have been lying there not breathing,” she said through tears.
A total of 45 people have now died as part of a COVID-19 outbreak at Forest Heights, according to numbers published by Revera Inc., the private company that runs the home.
Rowley has other questions for Revera, which runs dozens of long-term care and retirement homes across Canada. Like, how did the deadly novel coronavirus spread from Forest Heights’ second floor, where Rowley says staff told her it first appeared, to Egerbeen’s room on the third? Why did a doctor tell Rowley that Egerbeen would stay in her shared four-person room after she tested positive? And if Revera had isolated residents differently, would the woman she called “Mom” still be alive?
Earlier: Premier Doug Ford says his ‘heart breaks’ for people in long-term care. Story continues after video.
Revera spokesperson Larry Roberts told HuffPost Canada in a statement that the company cannot comment on any of the details about individual residents in this story “out of respect for the residents’ privacy and the privacy laws under which we operate.”
Rowley had known Egerbeen for more than 10 years. The pair developed a close relationship after Egerbeen hired Rowley to clean her apartment in Kitchener, Ont. Their birthdays were three days apart, so the two Libras always celebrated together with Swiss Chalet takeout and “Law and Order” marathons.
“Shirley is a very feisty, independent woman,” Rowley said.
“We grew a bond because she did not have a spouse or any children. So she started calling me her adopted daughter, and she kept saying, ‘I have a daughter and I didn’t have to go through the pain, yay!’”
Rowley is the executor of Egerbeen’s estate and a representative plaintiff in a $50-million class action lawsuit against Revera.
She and family members of other patients, represented by Diamond and Diamond LLP, claim the company was “systemically negligent” in operating its homes and caring for residents, leading to multiple COVID-19-related deaths.
At least 164 people have died after contracting COVID-19 in 12 of Revera’s long-term care and retirement homes, according to updates posted on the company’s website. There have also been outbreaks at dozens of other Revera homes that have not reported any deaths.
Roberts told HuffPost that Revera is reviewing the lawsuit and will respond through the courts.
“However, we will not let it distract us from our singular focus at this time, which is to prevent further illness and loss of life,” he said.
A spokesperson from the Ontario’s Ministry of Long-Term Care told HuffPost that what’s happened at Revera homes and others across the province is “tragic.”
The province has provided $243 million in emergency funding to support long-term care homes with needs like hiring and retaining staff, ministry spokesperson Macey Aramburo said in a statement.
In interviews with HuffPost, staff and relatives of those in Revera facilities said residents who tested positive for COVID-19 or who had contact with suspected cases were not isolated, nor did the company provide staff with personal protective equipment (PPE) until the outbreaks were well underway.
The family members also said Revera has told them very little about the impact of the outbreaks on their loved ones.
We’re actually getting calls from workers both past and current who are saying, ‘You guys don’t even know the half of it.’Darryl Singer, Diamond and Diamond lawyer
Diamond and Diamond lawyer Darryl Singer said his office has signed up more than 1,000 plaintiffs — residents of Revera-owned homes or their family members — who have joined the class action since it was announced April 30.
“A lot of what we’re finding is that not just the residents are upset … We’re actually getting calls from workers both past and current who are saying, ‘You guys don’t even know the half of it,’” Singer said.
“My firm has sued Revera in other lawsuits completely unrelated to this and going back a number of years. So this negligence, the lack of preparation, is not surprising.”
Revera is no stranger to lawsuits and accusations of neglect. Last year, there were at least 85 active lawsuits against the company countrywide. Past Diamond and Diamond lawsuits were settled out of court and at least one is still in progress, Singer told HuffPost.
“When we talk about negligent care of the residents, it didn’t start in February, when COVID broke out,” he said.
Employee says homes were not prepared
But when the breakout hit, Revera was not ready, according to one employee.
Management at Revera’s Carlingview Manor Long Term Care in Ottawa, where 38 residents have died, did not have a plan in place to stop the virus from spreading once it was diagnosed in patients and staff, a worker said in an interview. HuffPost is keeping this person’s identity confidential because they’re afraid of losing their job.
“They weren’t prepared at the beginning for something like this,” the source said.
Some Carlingview Manor employees are refusing to report to work because they’re afraid of bringing the highly contagious virus home to their children or elderly parents, the source said.
The first person to go into self-isolation at the Ottawa home was a housekeeper who worked on the seventh floor, according to the employee. His temperature was taken at the end of a shift and it was high. He was asked not to return to work, but the residents on the floor where he worked were allowed to keep moving around the home and go to the dining room, the source said.
After an outbreak was declared April 2 at Stoneridge Manor in Carleton Place, Ont., a senior Revera staffer went there to help out and then returned to work at Carlingview Manor, which had not yet reported a case of COVID-19, the employee said. Six days later, Carlingview Manor was hit with its own outbreak.
The Ontario government later issued an emergency order restricting long-term care home staff to a single workplace.
‘Very aggressive virus’
Revera’s spokesperson said health-care workers were not initially looking out for pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic spread, but it turned out to be a “significant contributor” to the outbreaks at both Carlingview Manor and Forest Heights.
“COVID-19 is a very aggressive virus that spreads quickly. We are learning more and more about it every day,” Roberts told HuffPost in an email.
“In hindsight, Ontario has learned that allowing staff to work at multiple healthcare locations was a contributor to the spread of the disease. This is particularly true of Revera homes, where, since mid-March, we closed all of our residences and long term care homes to all but essential visitors.”
He said limiting staff to one work site was hard to manage because it caused staffing shortages.
“As a result, it was only implemented recently by government directive.”
Roberts also said that the company is grateful for the “heroic” work of its staff. “Our teams have truly exhibited compassion, courage and determination.”
Carlingview Manor staff have more than enough PPE now, the source told HuffPost, but they worked without it in the early days of the outbreak, even after residents had tested positive. And staff still have questions about why some nurses have received N95 masks but PSWs have not.
Managers give “relaxed, nonchalant” answers when pressed about PPE, and employees have found unopened boxes of N95 masks that were never offered to them, the worker said.
Revera’s spokesperson said all of the company’s homes have had access to “sufficient and appropriate” PPE and that it has complied with Ontario government directives about its usage.
A May 3 briefing note from Public Health Ontario states that N95 masks only need to be worn during certain procedures.
It’s beyond a paycheque right now because, honestly, I don’t think Revera cares much about their employees.Carlingview Manor employee
The employee said they are still going to work out of concern for the patients.
“We’re doing the best we can. We’re there for the residents,” the employee said. “It’s beyond a paycheque right now because, honestly, I don’t think Revera cares much about their employees.”
Kitchener Centre MPP Laura Mae Lindo said staff at Forest Heights, where Egerbeen died, have told her Revera refused to let them wear PPE. She spoke with front-line staff in long-term care homes, including Forest Heights, in late April.
“Front-line workers told us that the extent of the crisis could have been prevented if staff had been allowed to wear the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that they had been fitted for at the beginning of the pandemic,” the NDP MPP wrote in a letter to the premier and Health Minister Christine Elliott that was shared with HuffPost.
“Staff have shared that PPE was taken away once it was already on the floor, and that the main reason given was that residents, especially those with dementia, would be scared by the masks,” Lindo wrote.
“PSWs who had tested positive for COVID-19 but were asymptomatic were told that they had to continue showing up for work because staffing shortages plagued the home.”
Forest Heights did ask “a few critical healthcare workers to come in, very early in the emergency outbreak situation, after being asymptomatic for 72 hours following a positive test for COVID-19,” Roberts, the Revera spokesperson, confirmed in his email to HuffPost.
The practice was consistent with an April 15 government directive that said “in exceptional circumstances,” critical workers who test positive but do not have symptoms can work, Roberts said.
“They were not sick at the time … Furthermore, this was always a very last resort from a staffing perspective,” he said.
“That’s horrendous … That is just appalling,” said Shepherd, a retired registered nurse.
She said her world “went rock bottom” when she received the call with the diagnosis for her mother, Martha Grace.
The doctor on the phone provided zero information about how Grace would be isolated or cared for now that she had the virus, Shepherd said.
“I asked him on April 22, ‘When will mom be retested?’ And he said to me, ‘We’d have to refer to the public health unit.’ Like, he didn’t even have a plan back [on] April 22.”
Shepherd said she and other residents’ relatives are relying on the news for updates because Revera isn’t sending them any information.
Revera’s spokesperson did not address HuffPost’s questions about the company’s communication with families.
The ministry of long-term care spokesperson said every licensed long-term care home has been assigned a ministry-support person, and added that provincial inspectors “have been in regular contact with Revera homes to ensure they are getting the support they need related to staff capacity, outbreak status, personal protective equipment supply and other critical needs.”
Bodies moved within three hours
Relatives of Carlingview Manor residents also say the lack of communication has been agonizing.
Debbie Clarke’s brother Bill has been a resident at Carlingview for about 10 years. He tested positive for COVID-19 in late April.
After phoning for more information about her brother when he tested positive, Clarke received a call back from a nurse who instead asked about Bill’s funeral arrangements. She was told his body would be removed from the home within three hours of his death, and she might not be notified until after his body was moved.
When Clarke couldn’t get through to anyone at the home in the days following that call, she worried her brother had died and no one told her. Four days later, someone at the home picked up her call and she learned that Bill was still alive.
“For those four days that I couldn’t get anybody, I said, ‘What? I’m waiting for the funeral home to call me?’”
It is a directive we do not enjoy following and that is particularly difficult for our staff.Larry Roberts, Revera spokesperson
The three-hour policy is not Revera’s, the company’s spokesperson said, but rather a direction from the chief coroner’s office.
“It is a directive we do not enjoy following and that is particularly difficult for our staff,” Revera’s spokesperson said.
Ontario’s chief coroner, Dr. Dirk Huyer, told HuffPost that families need to choose a funeral home within three hours but have more time to make the rest of the arrangements.
“It’s not a hard rule … it’s a goal to achieve,” he said by phone Monday.
Funeral home staff are available at all hours to pick up the deceased from hospitals and long-term care homes so there isn’t a backlog in the morning, he said. These policies are “horrible” but necessary during the pandemic to avoid overwhelming funeral homes, he said.
Although she occasionally gets to talk to her brother, Clarke said she continues to have trouble getting through on the phone to be connected to the sixth floor, where he lives.
Clarke said she had been told by a nurse that her brother’s roommate was showing COVID-19 symptoms. When she asked how his self-isolation would work, she said she was told they would still share the bathroom, but there was a curtain separating their spaces.
Her brother’s girlfriend Jennifer, who also lives at the home, had been her lifeline, texting and calling with information that Clarke couldn’t get from the nurses, or from her brother, who continually lost the cellphones she has given him.
But Jennifer recently stopped responding to messages, and a text sent from her phone revealed she is now in the intensive care unit. Clarke doesn’t know whether or not she’s alive, and because she’s not family, she can’t get any information.
Still, she said she is grateful for the work the staff are doing. She prays for the nurses and their families. But she’s also worried the home could see a situation like the one in Dorval, Que., where long-term care home staff walked out and 31 residents died. (That home is not owned by Revera.)
“I’d be scared s**tless if I was them, going into a home that’s so bad,” Clarke said through tears. “What’s stopping them from saying, ‘I’m not going into work today?’”
‘Worst nightmare come true’
Christine Collins found out that her brother Peter tested positive for COVID-19 in late April. Peter, who has dementia, has been complaining of a migraine and shortness of breath, but he doesn’t seem to know his test result: either he wasn’t told by staff, or he has forgotten it, Collins said.
She doesn’t want to tell him, to try to keep him in a happy mood.
Peter, 68, is on a secure floor for residents with dementia. He was in self-isolation for 14 days after being transferred from the Ottawa Civic Hospital, where he was treated for non-COVID-19 health issues. When his isolation period ended, Peter was allowed to leave his room and go to communal areas — even though an outbreak had been declared at the home six days earlier.
Peter likely contracted COVID-19 during that time, Collins said.
Even when he was in isolation, other residents wandered in and out of his room. Collins said a nurse told her it was Peter’s responsibility to make sure other residents didn’t come in.
“No one is in isolation on that floor,” Collins said.
The day her brother tested positive, Collins said she phoned the nursing station multiple times before a resident answered and cracked a joke about expecting a call from a famous singer about their wedding.
“And so I asked her, ‘Is there somebody there besides you that I can talk to?’”
The resident told her there wasn’t.
Collins calls the situation her “worst nightmare come true.” She keeps detailed notes of her calls to Carlingview. “I’m writing notes all the time, because at the end of the day, something has to happen.”
Neither Collins nor Clarke is currently part of Diamond and Diamond’s lawsuit against Revera, though Collins said she is considering joining it.
Rowley shares their concerns about how residents with COVID-19 were isolated at Forest Heights, the Kitchener home where Egerbeen died.
Patients isolated with curtains
Egerbeen, who shared a ward room with three other residents because that was what she could afford, was diagnosed with COVID-19 in early April.
Rowley recalls her conversation with the doctor that day: “I asked, ’OK, going forward, what are we doing to make sure we isolate her because, remember, she’s in a ward. He said, ‘We put the curtain around her.’
“A lot of concerns of mine came up at that point.”
… they did nothing to prevent this.Tracy Rowley
Within a week, Rowley said, two other residents in Egerbeen’s room had confirmed cases of COVID-19.
“Same thing happened. Their curtains were closed. That was it,” she said. “So they did nothing to prevent this.”
The statement from Revera’s spokesperson did not address questions about how residents were isolated once they tested positive for COVID-19.
Both Rowley and Shepherd said they had no problems with Revera before the outbreak and described the staff at Forest Heights as upbeat, passionate and caring.
Revera was warned by inspectors
Inspection reports from the Ontario Ministry of Long-Term Care, however, show that Revera was warned in the months leading up to the pandemic that it was not following ministry requirements to protect residents from abuse and neglect.
In May 2019, a provincial inspection found that Forest Heights had failed to protect residents from physical and sexual abuse.
That fall, Revera was warned about failures to protect residents at Forest Heights from staff neglect. The ministry inspector noted:
- Residents with wet beds,
- Staff sometimes forgot to brush residents’ teeth and change their diapers,
- Protocol had not been followed after a resident fell and hit their head.
Carlingview Manor, where Clarke and Collins’ brothers both live, was warned in February that resident’s rooms were not being cleaned properly. An inspector found dead cockroaches, cockroach feces, and furniture so “degraded” it was impossible to keep clean in rooms at the Ottawa home.
Ontario’s government has said it knows the long-term care sector needs an overhaul.
“Our main focus is to make sure it’s all hands on deck at long-term care,” Ford told reporters last Thursday. “We know the system’s broken.”
Minister of Long-Term Care Merrilee Fullerton has promised to review the system after the pandemic passes.
“Long-term care has endured years of neglect. Once we emerge from this pandemic, we will get to the bottom of this,” she said on Twitter last week.
Aramburo, the ministry spokesperson, said “all forms of review” are on the table.
“There will come a time to discuss the scale, scope, and terms of a review, but our priority now must be to protect people’s lives and continue to bend the curve,” her statement said.
… this year, I’m going to have to put flowers on her grave.Tracy Rowley
As for Rowley, she spent a difficult weekend without Egerbeen.
“This Mother’s Day will be very hard, because I would buy her cards, I would call her,” she said last week. “But this year, I’m going to have to put flowers on her grave.”
No service or graveside visit will make up for not being there the morning her mom died, Rowley said.
“I didn’t get to hold her hand. I didn’t get to stroke her hair. I didn’t get to tell her … ‘I’m here. Don’t worry.’”
Are you an employee or relative of a resident at a long-term care home where there’s an outbreak of COVID-19? Tell us your story. Contact reporters Emma Paling and Sherina Harris at [email protected] and [email protected].
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly said a nurse answered a phone and made a joke. It has been updated to say it was a resident who answered the phone.
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The Federal Bureau of Investigation is offering a reward of up to $1 million US for information directly leading to the arrest or prosecution of those responsible for the abduction of Caitlan Coleman and spouse Joshua Boyle.
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MANAGUA, Nicaragua — Nicaragua released more than 2,800 prisoners Wednesday, one day after the death of an inmate who reportedly had suffered from respiratory problems and while the government maintained there was no local spread of the coronavirus in the country.
Loyda Valle, a friend of inmate Silvio Pérez’s family, said his relatives were still awaiting his death certificate.
The government said in a statement that it was releasing the prisoners to house arrest as a gesture for upcoming Mother’s Day, but also mentioned that the release included elderly inmates and those with chronic illnesses. It made no reference to COVID-19, which has emerged in prison populations around the world and poses a greater risk to people in those categories.
Valle, a member of an opposition coalition, said relatives had spoken to the 60-year-old Pérez a day before his death and he had told them he was starting to feel better. The government has not confirmed the death of Pérez, who was serving a sentence for drug trafficking.
Yonarqui Martínez, a lawyer who did not represent Pérez but closely monitors prisoners, confirmed that the man was quickly buried Tuesday. He died in a Managua hospital that has become Nicaragua’s primary care centre for suspected COVID-19 cases.
Martinez said at least 26 political prisoners have been reported to be suffering from symptoms of COVID-19.
“They have fever and severe respiratory problems, but they haven’t taken them to the hospital or tested them for the coronavirus,” she said.
Martínez had requested release or change of detention conditions for 15 prisoners with chronic health conditions, but said 12 were rejected and three had not been answered.
Nearly half of the prisoners released Wednesday came from the Modelo prison in Tipitapa, where Martínez said most of the ill political prisoners are held. None of the approximately 90 political prisoners detained and still held following anti-government protests that began in April 2018 was believed to have been included in the release.
The Nicaraguan government has only reported 25 confirmed COVID-19 cases and eight deaths, far lower than other countries in the region. Reports have emerged of “express burials” carried out by public hospitals without families being present and growing numbers of deaths classified as atypical pneumonia.
Gabriela Selser, The Associated Press
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WASHINGTON — The judge presiding over Michael Flynn’s criminal case appointed a retired jurist on Wednesday to evaluate whether the former Trump administration national security adviser should be held in criminal contempt.
The judge’s order is the second signal in as many days registering his resistance to swiftly accepting the Justice Department’s motion to dismiss all charges against Flynn.
In his order, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan appointed former federal judge John Gleeson as an amicus curiae — or friend-of-the-court — and asked him to explore whether Sullivan should hold Flynn in “criminal contempt for perjury.”
Flynn pleaded guilty, as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, to lying to the FBI about conversations with the then-Russian ambassador to the United States during the presidential transition period.
As part of the plea, he had to admit in court, under oath, that he lied to the FBI and violated federal law. It is a crime to lie under oath in court.
Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec declined to comment on Sullivan’s order.
In January, Flynn filed court papers to withdraw his guilty plea, saying federal prosecutors had acted in “bad faith” and broken their end of the bargain when they sought prison time for him.
Initially, prosecutors said Flynn was entitled to avoid prison time because he had co-operated extensively with the government, but the relationship with the retired Army lieutenant general grew increasingly contentious in the months before he withdrew his plea, particularly after he hired a new set of lawyers who raised misconduct allegations against the government.
But the Justice Department filed a motion last week to dismiss the case, saying that the FBI had insufficient basis to question Flynn in the first place and that statements he made during the interview were not material to the broader counterintelligence investigation into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.
Officials have said they sought to dismiss the case in the interest of justice, upon the recommendation of a U.S. attorney who had been appointed by Attorney General William Barr to review the handling of the Flynn investigation.
But Sullivan, who has to approve the motion, made clear Tuesday that he wouldn’t immediately rule on the request and would let outside individuals and groups weigh in with their opinions in court documents.
Gleeson was a federal judge in New York for more than two decades. Before becoming a judge, he had been a federal prosecutor handling numerous high-profile cases, including the case against late Gambino crime family boss John Gotti. He’s been in private practice since 2016.
Associated Press writer Eric Tucker contributed to this report.
Michael Balsamo, The Associated Press
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VANCOUVER — Being single during the COVID-19 pandemic sucks. Unless you like being alone all the time, I guess.
While many people’s lockdown experience has been spent with a spouse or long-term partner, where they can presumably hug each other, talk face-to-face and depend on each other, for single people that’s not the case.
I haven’t touched another human being since early March, let alone had any sort of romantic contact. My dating app activity dried up by early April as everyone realized we couldn’t actually meet in person. The only thing I’ve kissed in the past two months are my cats, repeatedly on their cute little heads. They’re getting tired of it.
But as British Columbia moves toward reopening in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, public health officials have given people the all-clear to start slowly expanding their social circles. B.C. residents can even even start hugging a select few close friends and family again.
So what does that mean for hand-holding with a new person, swapping spit or even having sex? Surely that’s a prime way to spread the virus?
Speaking on behalf of all single British Columbians, I’m happy to report that B.C. chief medical officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has finally weighed in on dating in the age of COVID-19, and the newly emerging age of expanding your social bubble.
Henry said that yes, in B.C. it’s OK to start casually dating people outside of your own household again, almost certainly causing single people across the province to rejoice and frantically re-download their long-deleted dating apps.
“Let’s find those opportunities to meet each other safely and if you happen to find somebody that you want to spend more close time with, then make your own connections,” she said.
B.C. announced last week that residents can start slowly to expand their social circle to gatherings with two to six people, ideally outdoors, so long as everyone limits their contacts with others and maintains social distancing. Now, we have confirmation that expansion can include new romantic interests.
Let’s find those opportunities to meet each other safely and if you happen to find somebody that you want to spend more close time with, then make your own connections.Dr. Bonnie Henry
Henry acknowledged how lonely many single folks have likely felt throughout the pandemic. She noted that while people have found creative ways to find love in the age of COVID-19, from video call dates to simultaneously Netflix and chilling, it’s not the same as social human connection.
“Yes, we can look at how we’re going to connect with people, those people we have been talking to online,” she said. “We’re social people, we need that. But let’s do it in small, thoughtful ways, and also let’s be really concerned about ourselves and if we are feeling unwell or under the weather, put it off for another day.”
Translation: no orgies for the time being. But dating one person at a time? After two months of lockdown, that’s finally back on the table.
Thirsty singles from Vancouver to Prince Rupert were already gearing up for their return to the dating market.
Even beloved children’s musician Raffi checked in to see if Henry herself is single.
But he later clarified he just really respects her work.
Henry says that if B.C. residents are exploring new romantic or sexual partners, it’s best to keep it to one new contact at a time.
“If you are going to start a relationship with somebody, this is not the time to do rapid serial dating,” she said.
She suggested a picnic in the park could be a very romantic date activity — so long as you keep a safe distance from other people and groups.
Later on in the press conference, Henry was asked specifically about kissing, a notably moist and respiratory-intensive activity.
“This is a respiratory virus that is spread through droplets. So yes, we’ve seen it with other diseases that can spread this way, so yes, I would expect that if somebody was sick with it and they were kissing somebody else, they could actually quite effectively pass it on that way,” she said.
Henry says if you plan on kissing anyone, try to keep it to just one person for a time period, and wait between partners. It’s important to remember that as soon as you kiss someone, their bubble effectively becomes part of your bubble.
“The people I have contact with, it means I’m contacting their contacts,” she said. “So if they’re somebody who’s been with a whole bunch of other people, then my risk would go up.”
“Pick somebody, see if it works and then take your time.”
Honestly, good dating advice for most relationships, pandemic or not.
Anyway, time to change my Tinder bio to “looking to pick somebody, see if it works and take our time.”
Will report back on results.
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