Quebec's first COVID-19 patient is on the mend as health authorities retrace her steps

The Montreal-area woman is in isolation and follow-up tests will be performed in the next few days to see if the infection is gone, said Dr. Yves Jalbert, deputy director of public health protection for Quebec.

Quebec senior public health official commends patient for taking necessary steps to prevent spread of virus

Quebec's  deputy director of public health protection, Dr. Yves Jalbert, says the province's first confirmed COVID-19 patient voluntarily put on a face mask before heading to the hospital with a sore throat. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Quebec's first COVID-19 patient is at home and doing fine, a senior Quebec public health official said Friday evening, shortly after the Health Ministry put out a statement that a test had confirmed the woman was indeed infected with the coronavirus.

The woman is in isolation, and follow-up tests will be performed in the next few days to see if the infection is gone, said Dr. Yves Jalbert, deputy director of public health protection for Quebec.

"I had an opportunity to talk to her husband this afternoon, and she's doing well," said Jalbert Friday.

Once further tests come back negative — showing she's no longer contagious — the woman will be able to return to normal life, he said.

Now Jalbert is commending not only the health professionals who responded to the case, but the patient herself for diligently reporting a sore throat to her local clinic in the Montreal region after she returned from a trip to Iran on Monday.

"I would like to underline the great civic sense of the infected person, who hastened to take the necessary preventive and hygienic measures to avoid contamination of those around her," said Jalbert in a Friday news release announcing the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg confirmed the woman has tested positive.

The patient, who voluntarily wearing a mask, first went to a Montreal-area clinic and was given advice to go to hospital, Jalbert told CBC. She then went to a hospital, told medical professionals what her concern was and was immediately placed in isolation in a negative-pressure room.

"All the necessary measures were taken to protect the health care workers and the other patients in the hospital," he said. "That was done pretty impressively."

Quebec ready to contain spread

The fact that Quebec has this level of precaution in hospitals is "pretty impressive," Jalbert told CBC, considering how little time health authorities have had to prepare for a possible coronavirus outbreak.

He said about 100 people in Quebec have already been tested for COVID-19, and the province has a plan in place, ready to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus and treat infected patients for respiratory illness caused by it.

The patient had decided on her own to wear a mask and take a car rather than public transit. She was "really careful" to not have close contact with others, Jalbert said, which has made it easier for investigators to trace the woman's possible contacts.

Workers wearing protective gear spray disinfectant as a precaution against COVID-19 coronavirus in South Korea last Sunday as the virus continues to spread around the world. ( Hwa-young/Yonhap via AP)

Authorities have been busy tracking down those possible contacts, he said.

"What is left now is the plane," Jalbert said. "We are working on the passenger list. We expect that, very quickly, all the people who were sitting close to our case will be given the necessary advice for this situation."

He said "sitting close" means sitting within about seven rows of the woman — the three in front of her and three behind her.

There is no point in testing someone who doesn't have symptoms because the results would be unreliable, he said. 

Info-Santé 811 line is first step

Jalbert said the province is continuing to develop its protocols around dealing with patients. .

"This virus can come from nearly anywhere in the world," he said. "We expect people who are coming back from any country to take some measures: the first of which would be to check in quickly if they develop any symptoms that would be compatible with COVID-19."

The first step for people who think they have been exposed, he said, is to call 811 — the free Info-Santé medical help line.

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, those who are infected with the potentially fatal COVID-19 may have few to no symptoms, and when symptoms do start to show, they are similar to a cold or flu. Symptoms include fever, cough and difficulty breathing.

Symptoms may take up to 14 days to appear after exposure to COVID-19. 

The World Health Organization has declared COVID-19 an international health emergency. But so far the WHO has resisted using the label "pandemic" — in part because of the panic that it could inspire.

With files from Matt D'Amours


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