Sudbury·Audio

Sudbury's 1st COVID-19 case: Geologist calls experience ironic given prior concerns

It was a month ago that the first confirmed case of COVID-19 was reported in Sudbury. A man in his 50s contracted the virus while attending a large international mining conference in Toronto. That case has a name. Stewart Hamilton is a geologist at the Willet Green Miller Centre on the Laurentian University campus.

Stewart Hamilton had been concerned about coronovirus in weeks leading up to international mining conference

Stewart Hamilton is a geologist in Sudbury. He was diagnosed with COVID-19 on March 10, and became the first case of the virus in northern Ontario. (Supplied by Stewart Hamilton)

Stewart Hamilton calls it ironic that he contracted COVID-19 while attending a large international mining conference in Toronto.

That's because the Sudbury geologist had been concerned about the rapidly spreading novel coronavirus before he even went to the event.

At that time there were a growing number of cases already in Toronto, but that's as far as it had spread in Ontario.

Hamilton had even mentioned his concern about attending to his co-workers in the weeks leading up to the Prospectors Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) conference from Mar 1 to 4. The annual event is attended by thousands of people from dozens of countries.

Hamilton decided to continue on with his travel plans and attended for four of the five days.

Despite his best efforts, he contracted the virus, and a week after returning to Sudbury test results confirmed his suspicions.

Hamilton became the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Sudbury, and northern Ontario.

"I'm convinced that if PDAC was held one week later it would have been cancelled, and I said this a week before PDAC," Hamilton told CBC News.

"In fact I was so concerned about it, I sought permission from my boss to move to a different hotel because I thought the hotel we were in was a higher risk because of its location."

"Sure enough I'm the guy that got it, so life is nothing if not ironic."

Hamilton attended the conference for four days, and says during that time he tried hard not to shake anyone's hand, but a few times people stuck their hands out and his response was automatic.

"It was at a luncheon when this happened, and I may not have Purell-ed my hands in time, that might have been when I got it," he said.

Hamilton had no symptoms when he returned from Toronto and went to work as usual for two days. He works for the Ministry of Energy, Northern Development and Mines in the Willet Green Miller Centre on the Laurentian University campus.

"I was actually being quite careful because some of my colleagues were a little fearful of me and the other people that had gone to the conference," He said, adding that he tried to avoid co-workers, but showed no symptoms at that time.

"Luckily nobody got it from me."

Symptoms surfaced days later

It was on the Saturday, after being at the conference that Hamilton said he developed a weird headache, a sinus ache and a fever, but no cough.

He called Health Sciences North to find out the protocol for COVID-19, told them he was coming in and then went to the emergency department. He was placed in a negative pressure room to be tested.

Those results came back positive for the novel coronavirus on Mar 10, a week after he had been at the conference.

"In my case it was the equivalent of a nasty flu," Hamilton said, adding that he also experienced extreme fatigue.

The vast majority of us are not going to require hospitalization. You just have to immediately self-isolate, stay away from others and rely on your friends.- Stewart Hamilton, Sudbury's first confirmed case of COVID-19 

One of the other criteria for COVID-19 is a loss of sense of smell. 

Hamilton says he experienced this, but because he was one of the earlier cases, public health authorities still hadn't discovered that detail yet.

"I was very interested in this, like I said I'm a scientist, and I talked to the public health people — they hadn't heard of it yet. But, now it turns out that it's so common with this disease that it's an important diagnostic criterion now," he said.

"A month later it's one of the top criteria they use to diagnose it."

His sense of smell did return when other symptoms started to subside, which coincidentally was around the time his test results finally came back.

Hamilton has been told he is now immune to this version of the coronavirus, but the strain could mutate and return in future years. He would not be immune to those versions.

"The good thing is that we've already had it and we can go out and help other people without too much fear." 

Precautions taken

Once he began experiencing symptoms Hamilton says he was very careful to take all the necessary precautions to not pass the virus on to others, like he did when he called ahead to the hospital before going to the emergency room.

After returning from the hospital he separated himself from his family, living in the basement area of his house.

"We practiced scrupulous distancing," he said. One member of his family did end up also testing positive for the virus, but has since recovered.

Hamilton and his family were in quarantine/self-isolation for more than the required 14 days. During that time friends and neighbours dropped off food for them.

"People were very good that way. No complaints. People were extremely kind," he said.

Fresh-air, outdoors = good medicine 

Admittedly, it was difficult to be isolated within his home, but Hamilton says he was thankful for the deck and backyard on his property.

"I can't imagine how bad it would be if you were stuck in a small apartment with no balcony."

Hamilton agrees that physical distancing is necessary to help keep COVID-19 from spreading further. However, he is critical of the broader response that some governments have taken to closing parks, and the directive that people should stay inside.

"I am aware of the effects of Vitamin D, sunlight and fresh air on the seasonal flu," he said.

"If they can maintain proper social distancing, I think it's far better for people to be outdoors."

For anyone who may find themselves with a positive test result for COVID-19, Hamilton has some advice.

"The vast majority of us are not going to require hospitalization, and you just have to immediately self isolate, stay away from others, and rely on your friends."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Angela Gemmill

Journalist

Angela Gemmill is a CBC journalist who has covered news in Sudbury, Ont., for 15 years. Connect with her on Twitter @AngelaGemmill. Send story ideas to angela.gemmill@cbc.ca

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