What Happens When You Get a Call From Toronto Public Health About COVID-19


On Friday afternoon I got a call from Toronto Public Health. Fortunately, I knew it was coming.

A week earlier I’d received a text from a friend saying he’d tested positive for COVID-19. A week before that text, my wife and I had had a beer with him for just over an hour.

READ: You’re Probably Not Doing Social Distancing Right

15 days ago seems like an entirety. 15 days ago my wife and I went on our first proper date-night since having our second child in November. 15 days ago we went to a nice restaurant, ate and drank without thinking too much of the ongoing crisis in China (and Italy and Iran, and South Korea). 15 days ago we met up after dinner with a friend for a beer and didn’t get home until after midnight – the first time we’d been out that late together in months.

None of that seemed strange. Now it seems impossible.

On Friday, the voice of the man on the other end of the phone sounds tired. He immediately informs me who he is, that he’s calling from Toronto Public Health regarding a confirmed case of COVID-19, and that I was listed as having been in close contact with said case. Of course, I already knew this, and since finding out about my friend testing positive, my wife and I had gone into full lockdown mode. And damn if it wasn’t hard.

The Public Health Inspector spoke to me about the confirmed case, never mentioning my friend by name, as these cases are still considered private health matters. He asked me to confirm I was at a certain location at a certain time and what took place there. He asked if I remembered hugging or shaking hands, or anything else that would suggest very close contact. He asked about symptoms (not my wife, myself, nor either of my two kids have shown signs of any) and spoke to the possibility of them still showing up, even in the later days of our isolation.

Health care workers are putting in long hours and doing everything they can to play catch-up on a virus that could run rampant at any turn. That said – and without any blame whatsoever – it is worrying that it took nearly six full days for TPH to get in touch with me. It speaks to the importance of those who test positive or feel ill properly communicating those facts to anyone they’ve been in contact with during the time they were sick. They need to take responsibility and help everyone get ahead of the possibility of exponential growth. TPH is overwhelmed, and we need to help them.

If my friend hadn’t been in contact with me to let me know, my family wouldn’t have been in self-isolation for the past week. We would have been practising social distancing, but even then we wouldn’t have had the same heightened level of awareness every Canadian now needs to make sure they operate with.

After explaining the evening’s events with Toronto Public Health, ensuring the inspector that no one in my family had any symptoms, and giving him some personal details (address, personal email), I was sent a follow-up email with some straight forward, if not basic, documents titled “How to Self-Isolate” and “2019 Novel Coronavirus”, that contained information already easily available to anyone looking for it.

But perhaps that’s just the point. Not enough people are looking for it. Not enough people are taking this as seriously as they should be. Prompting Prime Minister Trudeau to tell Canadians earlier today that “Enough is enough. Go home and stay home.”

This isn’t about you. And it certainly isn’t about me. It’s about everyone else you don’t know that you could be hurting.

So stop being selfish and start protecting those who need protection – which, at this point, could be anybody. We have a long way to go in our fight against coronavirus, and getting a call from Toronto Public Health shouldn’t be a wake-up call, it shouldn’t be a reminder, it should be a chance for you to assure them you’re already doing your part.

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