New Brunswick

Recovered COVID-positive Saint John man responds to criticism

As an essential worker, Cortland Cronk wasn't required to isolate when he returned from Calgary in October

Posted: November 25, 2020
Last Updated: November 25, 2020

Cortland Cronk, 26, of Saint John says he was very careful and followed all of the COVID-19 rules. Despite a lot of panic among friends and contacts when he tested positive, no one he knows contracted the virus. (Submitted by Cortland Cronk)

Cortland Cronk, 26, never dreamed he would bring COVID-19 into New Brunswick. When he returned home from Calgary on an Oct. 24 flight, he followed all of the rules required of an essential worker.

Cronk was healthy when he arrived at the Saint John Airport and had worn a mask for the entire flight. As everyone else did, he stopped at the "new border" that's been set up and told officials all the details of his four-day business trip.

"And so the girl just asked me, 'OK, are you there for work? No worries.' And then she said, 'Do you have any symptoms,' which at the time I did not. So she's like, 'OK, you don't need a quarantine.'"

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Cronk was considered an essential worker because he offered software support to auto dealers. Without the software, he explained, repairs couldn't be performed on the vehicles of first responders.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health confirmed Cronk wasn't required to self-isolate upon his return to New Brunswick in October, but those rules have now been tightened and most workers who travel outside of the Atlantic provinces have to self-isolate for 14 days when they return.

As far as he knows, no one he was in contact with, from his October meetings in Calgary, to friends he spent time with, to his spouse whom he lives with, has tested positive for the virus.

It was nine days after his arrival, on Nov. 2, when Cronk went for a COVID-19 test in Saint John. For the previous few days he had a "sniffle" and a mild headache. He blamed both on the time change between Alberta and New Brunswick, but with another business trip planned he wanted to be sure.

He said that after going for the test, no one from Public Health advised him to isolate until the results came back, and since he still felt generally well, he continued on with his regular activities.

"They didn't recommend it," he said. "They didn't say anything about it."

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In a statement, a spokesperson for the Department of Health said: "If you have no symptoms of COVID-19, but are still eligible for testing, there are no requirements for you to self-isolate, unless you were directed to do so by Public Health." 

Told to keep positive test result quiet

The day after his test, Cronk and a friend travelled to Fredericton, where he visited Jeff Alpaugh Custom, then stopped at a local restaurant for lunch.

When he got home to Saint John later that afternoon, his test result came in.

Looking back Cronk says, he wishes he had followed the advice of New Brunswick Public Health and not told anyone he was COVID positive. He believes keeping quiet would have saved himself, and those he crossed paths with, a lot of 'headaches.' (Cortland Cronk/Facebook)

"As I was getting back from Fredericton, walking into my buddy's house, I just checked my phone and I said, 'Hey, I'm positive.' And he didn't believe me at first — he's like, 'You're not even sick.' And I said, 'I know.'"

Cronk immediately turned around, got in his car and headed home to self-isolate as he was directed to.

On that first night, he estimates he spent four to six hours on the phone with health officials going through everywhere he had been.

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Cronk said he was told not to tell anyone he had tested positive for COVID-19 to prevent widespread panic.

"They recommended me not to say anything to anybody — just until they assess the situation."

That's why, when a panicked Jeff Alpaugh texted Cronk asking if he was COVID-positive, Cronk told him no.

"I didn't want … panic when there wasn't panic needed," he said.

The next day, after health officials told him he could, he told Alpaugh and others he had tested positive.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health was unclear when asked whether COVID-19-positive people are being advised not to share their diagnosis. In a statement, CBC News was told Public Health "does not advise cases NOT to tell anyone" they are COVID-positive, but rather "assures the individual around confidentiality of their personal health information."

On Nov. 4, the day after Cronk's positive test result, the Department of Health announced his case in a news release stating that it was travel-related and that he was self-isolating.

The day after that, on Nov. 5, the Department of Health issued an exposure notification for his flights from Calgary to Saint John. 

'People just went haywire'

Looking back, Cronk said he should have followed the advice he was given and not revealed that he had COVID-19.

"I think Public Health is right because of how people reacted when I told them that I had COVID. They acted like I was disease-ridden — they did."

It wasn't worth all the headaches that I got from just dealing with that. - Cortland Cronk

"I told one of my best friends and he told 16 other people that all went into panic," he said.

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Cronk said the entire experience has taught him who his "true friends" are.

"After I got it, people just went haywire. They said it was my fault. I shouldn't have been travelling. I shouldn't have been working. I shouldn't have been making money. I should have been isolating. I should have self-isolated when I got back home, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

"It wasn't worth all the headaches that I got from just dealing with that. Right. I couldn't imagine being sick, like actually sick, and then having to deal with all of that as well."

Cronk's symptoms never amounted to much. He later felt tired for a couple of days and lost his sense of taste and smell briefly but was able to continue working from home.

Communication improvements needed

Now recovered, Cronk said it's clear improvements are needed when it comes to communication at the Department of Public Health, and that contact tracers in the province are under pressure.

He described most of the officials he spoke with as "very unorganized."

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Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell is seen at a recent COVID-19 briefing. Public Health reported two new cases on Tuesday, and said the province's active case count has dropped to 31. (Government of New Brunswick)

"I had to explain myself, like, probably five times and go over my timeline again and again and again and again."

Cronk said that by the third phone call from someone asking him for the information he had already gone through twice, he told the person on the other end of the phone he was finished going over the same territory.

"There should be a file on me under my medicare number or whatever they put it in under and say, 'Here's all the information we've collected. We've put it all into the computer.' And then whenever someone opens up their file, they have it all here and they can just confirm something.

"They didn't do any of that. It was just asking the same questions over and over again."

The topper for Cronk was that when he asked Public Health officials to provide him with a note for his employer, stating he was COVID-19-positive, they said, "No, we don't do that."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Vanessa Blanch
Reporter

Vanessa Blanch is a reporter based in Moncton. She has worked across the country for CBC for 20 years. If you have story ideas to share please email: vanessa.blanch@cbc.ca