North·First Person

I had COVID-19 one year ago. It's terrifying. Let's please all just be kind

Yellowknife resident Richard Makohoniuk shares his experience of being the first person in the Northwest Territories to test positive for COVID-19.

Nobody asks to catch COVID-19 — it catches you

Richard Makohoniuk is a Yellowknife resident. He was the first person in the N.W.T. to test positive for COVID-19. (Submitted by Richard Makohoniuk)

This column is a First Person essay by Richard Makohoniuk. For more information about CBC's Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

Over the past 13 months, there have been 56 phone calls similar to the one I got sometime after 10 p.m. on March 20, 2020.

During that call, I was informed that the nasal swab that felt like it tickled the base of my brain had tested positive for COVID-19. 

I was the first case in the N.W.T.

I don't want to sensationalize anything, but that's a frightening call to get. Immediately, my stomach dropped between my toes and as things began to sink in, I felt so much anxiety and shame over the potential danger I had unknowingly put my fellow Yellowknifers in. 

Angst, guilt and shame

The following morning, there was no avoiding the contact-tracing phone call — I wish I could have. Though there were no travel restrictions or self-isolation requirements at that time, I felt embarrassed as I retraced my steps, knowing that every grocery-store visit, sidewalk conversation, hockey game or day-care drop-off could have potentially infected one of my friends, teammates or community members. Frankly, I wanted to lie and pretend I'd been an introverted homebody. I felt so guilty that I had been out in public with an unknown sidekick named COVID-19. 

The team at Public Health was fantastic and helped make a terrible situation somewhat bearable —  shout-out to the nurse who refused my offer to gear-up in the warm garage and instead put her PPE on in the cold and wind on my deck so my neighbours wouldn't see a PPE-covered nurse walking into my house. 

On top of all this angst I was feeling, there seemed to be a relentless army of keyboard warriors intent on piling more guilt and shame on my shoulders. I sat in my basement, alone, feeling a million miles away from my family as I read the comments. There were hundreds of them, but the only ones I remember clearly highlighted how it really didn't matter who caught COVID-19 because each and every one of us had a part to play in keeping our communities safe. 

Nobody asks to catch COVID-19

On March 19, almost one year to the day that I learned I had tested positive for COVID-19, I went to the mall in downtown Yellowknife and received my first dose of the Moderna vaccine. I had been nervous about it but reached out to people far more knowledgeable about vaccinations and the science behind them to ease my mind. It was a really emotional week for me as I reflected on my experience and how difficult that time was for my family. 

Fast-forward to today — we are in one, Yellowknife, Some community members have tested positive for COVID-19 and according to news reports, contact tracing has identified more than 90 potential exposure risks.  I can understand and relate to what those individuals who got that call are going through. 

The circumstances surrounding these recent positive tests are as irrelevant to me as they should be to you. Nobody asks to catch COVID-19 — it catches you. Our fellow community members are likely already feeling ashamed, guilty, and fearful along with a slew of other emotions. Now is not the time to add to the collective keyboard-warrior chorus. Now is the time to bring the uplifting messages that will be remembered and revisited. 

Positivity can be powerful when you are dealing with COVID-19. I've been there and while the experience was terrible, what helped me get through it was texts and phone calls from my family, close friends dropping off meals and knowing that ultimately, in the end, my fellow northerners and my community were rooting for my recovery. 

The pandemic has been hard for a lot of our community members —  there is no denying or sugar-coating that. But what I've been amazed at is the number of innovative ways people have supported one another. If you choose to look, and you don't even need to look hard, you'll find a community of neighbours in Yellowknife that care about and support one another. It's different than the days gone by that some old-timers reminisce about, but it's there. 


Richard Makohoniuk


Richard Makohoniuk is a long time Yellowknifer and family man. With the support of family and close friends he recovered from COVID and is anxiously awaiting a return to normality.