The Northwest Territories’ first Covid-19 patient felt threatened by online comments demanding to know more about them and thinks it’s “a miracle” the disease did not spread further.
The NWT had no active cases as of Tuesday morning.
Case number one tested positive after returning to Yellowknife by air from a trip to Alberta and British Columbia. Their positive test was confirmed to them late on Friday, March 20, before being made public by the NWT government on the morning of Saturday, March 21.
Their recovery was confirmed on Friday, April 3. The territorial government considers a patient with two negative Covid-19 tests, conducted 24 hours apart, to be recovered.
“When I got the phone call that I had tested negative twice and could rejoin the family, I burst out of my room and sprinted with a lot of yelling and hollering,” the patient, a man, told Cabin Radio on Tuesday.
“It was one of the best days of my life to hold my wife and children again.”
The patient’s medical history cannot be independently verified as their records are held privately. The NWT’s health authority does not comment on individual cases. Cabin Radio is confident of the person’s identity as the NWT’s first Covid-19 case.
The man approached Cabin Radio through an intermediary. Cabin Radio has taken no proactive steps to identify any of the NWT’s Covid-19 patients.
He requested anonymity “because I don’t know how people will react to knowing who patients are,” adding: “If there is a negative reaction I want to protect my family from that.”
That approach follows the experience of watching online comments once news of his case broke.
“I felt that people were really demanding to know who I was, or know more information so they could figure out who I was,” the man said.
“At the time it felt threatening. One of the biggest ironies to me was people demanding to know what flight I was on and where I flew from. Ninety-five percent of these people most likely hadn’t even been in an airport in months, so the risk to them was zero.
“It was likely a fearful reaction, which I can understand, but it did also make me feel even more isolated.”
‘No one wants to be that person’
The patient described concern, following their positive test, that their “minimal” interactions with other people before self-isolating might mean they had started an outbreak of Covid-19 in the Northwest Territories.
“No one wants to be that person, even if it could have happened to anyone that was travelling outside the territory,” they said.
“It certainly does feel like a miracle from God [that no connected Covid-19 cases were confirmed]. I waited on pins and needles to hear about the testing results for those people close to me.”
The patient said their symptoms were comparatively mild, with no difficulty breathing and no hospital treatment required. However, they described their condition at its worst as “the flu amplified by 10.”
The man thanked his wife, “an absolute hero,” for her support and care of the couple’s children during his time in isolation.
More than two weeks after receiving the all-clear, the man said his family remains on edge – and taking every precaution – in case the virus should re-emerge. Some reports from South Korea have suggested patients who were deemed recovered can later test positive again.
“We are very carefully watching the health of our entire household for any signs or symptoms of the virus,” the man said.
“I don’t think we are acting much differently from when I did have Covid-19, outside of the fact that I am reunited with my family.”
Below, read a full transcript of the interview.
This interview was conducted on April 21, 2020. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Ollie Williams: When you were travelling back to the NWT, how much was the virus on your mind? Were you giving it much thought on the journey home and in the days before you started developing symptoms? Had you any idea you might have been exposed?
Covid-19 patient: The virus wasn’t on my mind at all at that point. In fact, while I was away, the Arctic Winter Games was cancelled and I thought that was a bit of an overreaction because this wasn’t yet a big “thing” in Canada. I was also quite busy while away so I wasn’t watching the news or following the story, so to speak.
In hindsight, what a great decision to cancel the Arctic Winter Games and it showed tremendous leadership of the organizers to make that call.
At that time, given that the expected symptoms were any one of a cough, runny nose, or fever, I would guess that the majority of Northerners might have been feeling one of those due to the fact it was cold season. I didn’t give it much thought until I woke up one day feeling achy. At that point I reached out to Public Health to arrange for a test.
After I returned to Yellowknife I saw a news report that there was another case announced in the city I had been in, so that registered on my radar as another good reason to get myself tested.
What did it feel like to get that test result back and be told it’s Covid-19 and you are patient one?
I got the call at 10:30pm on a Friday night. I was in bed watching TV with my headphones on. My wife got my attention to tell me my phone was ringing.
It was the furthest thing from my mind until I saw the number on Call ID. At that point my mind started to race a little bit and anxiety shot up past the butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling. A small part of me thought, ‘This isn’t possible. This must be a prank, who is working at 10:30 at night?’
I was concerned for my family. At this point I had been with them in our house for over a week. Most of my concerns were about them and what the next steps would be for them.
The reality set in quickly and the questions surrounding contact tracing started quickly. It was very factual and I got the information needed about what I needed to do next and what the healthcare team was going to do in terms of protecting my family and our community as well.
I was scared. My mind was racing. I felt a sense of dread knowing that I did in fact interact with people, minimally, over the previous week.
The emotions were all over the map but it was quickly into logistics as I was instructed to isolate myself from my family right away. Once I was in self-isolation I started to reach out via text to family and close friends that I had been close contact with to share the news and caution them that Public Health would be in touch and they should self-isolate until they hear from them.
Being case number one for the NWT, how much were you thinking about what people might say or do when the news broke?
The ‘first-case’ thoughts were there that night but not at the forefront.
By the morning, when I woke up, I was thinking about that a little bit more in the sense that I didn’t want to be the person that brought a breakout into the NWT. No one wants to be that person, even if it could have happened to anyone that was travelling outside the territory.
On the phone in the morning with Public Health I was concerned but also willing to do what I needed to in order to help contain this. They were so professional, kind, and reassuring as I walked them through all of my steps from the time I returned to Yellowknife through to getting the phone call from Public Health on Friday night.
On that call I came to the realization that being ashamed or trying to hide any of the actions I took wasn’t going to do any good and I was as up-front as I possibly could be with every contact I had or could have had.
What was the experience like of reading comments online about your case?
I was following the story closely the following day on Cabin Radio and CBC. I felt that people were really demanding to know who I was, or know more information so they could figure out who I was. I haven’t gone back to review it – it might have just been me emotionally overreacting to the situation.
At the time it felt threatening. One of the biggest ironies to me was people demanding to know what flight I was on and where I flew from. Ninety-five percent of these people most likely hadn’t even been in an airport in months, so the risk to them was zero.
It was likely a fearful reaction, which I can understand, but it did also make me feel even more isolated.
Kudos to my colleagues at work, I told our team (because I had been in the office for one day) and wanted to tell them before they heard from Public Health. They were extremely encouraging and supportive.
How ill did you become?
The achy body lasted for less than a day. It felt like the flu amplified by 10. I had no energy and struggled to get out of bed. I did develop a cough that was consistent enough that I felt like my eyeballs were going to pop out of my head.
I would classify my symptoms as mild, as my breathing never felt compromised and I was still able to move around. The cough developed after I was in isolation and lasted a few days. I combatted it with Tylenol, which helped.
What are your thoughts on the fact it never spread beyond you to anyone else? Does that feel like a bit of a miracle?
That is really hard to put into words. The fact that it stopped with me didn’t really have as much to do with me as it did to the people that Public Health contacted and were told to self-isolate. Those individuals did that for our community and should be privately commended for it. Certainly our family did our part. We stayed home and away from everyone. That meant there was no support system for people like my wife, who is an absolute hero!
It certainly does feel like a miracle from God. I waited on pins and needles to hear about the testing results for those people close to me. I watched the government case updates every day and felt just a little relief as the number of days stretched longer and longer and passed the 14-day mark where I might have passed the virus forward. It was unlikely that the number of cases was going to remain at one but, with every passing day, I would pray a little harder that it would.
I imagine you may have seen reports from places like South Korea that suggest some Covid-19 patients who are cleared then appear to test positive again at a later date. How easy are you taking things and how carefully are you still watching yourself just in case? What kind of continuing contact do you have with Public Health staff?
I take the fact that I had Covid-19 very seriously and do my best to act as though I still could be contagious. We have people that are able to do our shopping for us and pick up things that we need around the house. Our family unit is keeping to ourselves to minimize any potential risk to our community.
Public Health, and our entire care team, is extremely responsive and has given me all the information we need. We are very carefully watching the health of our entire household for any signs or symptoms of the virus. There is a lot of information out there and I am putting my trust in the chief public health officer to make the right decisions to keep northerners safe.
I don’t think we are acting much differently from when I did have Covid-19, outside of the fact that I am reunited with my family.
How did the kids cope? What did you tell them? And how did it feel to be able to hug them eventually?
I am crying.
Children are so adaptable. We didn’t give them too much information, just that daddy needed to be away for a little bit to keep them safe. Perhaps they were a little bit naughtier in my absence but they are such great little people that they handled it well.
When I got the phone call that I had tested negative twice and could rejoin the family, I burst out of my room and sprinted with a lot of yelling and hollering. I actually hadn’t hung up the phone and the individual on the other line heard the reunion and had a tear in their eye as well.
It was one of the best days of my life to hold my wife and children again.
I was able to see them over the two weeks through a window or from a distance but to hold them, that is one of the greatest feelings in the world for a parent.
Two weeks is a short time for a vacation, but can feel like forever waiting out a quarantine.
Editor’s note: The patient first approached Cabin Radio with a request to sponsor an episode of Covid Corner, the station’s nightly NWT Covid-19 update. This interview was subsequently arranged.