Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s public health chief, taking leave of absence for medical treatment in New York City in 2009. Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/Reuters
If, in the course of a few months, your doctor finds a lesion on your tongue that is suspicious, you could be diagnosed with a malignancy. If, in the course of a few months, you get an abnormal result on a test that doctors use to make sure a baby is still growing, you could be diagnosed with a baby with Down syndrome. And if, in the course of a few months, someone you know becomes ill with a type of stomach cancer that’s often fatal, you could be diagnosed with a type of stomach cancer that’s often fatal, you could be diagnosed with cancer, or you might come down with the flu.
When the coronavirus pandemic struck, doctors and nurses were put on alert to prepare for an outbreak of an illness that was entirely new. On April 22, Toronto’s public health officer, Dr. Eileen de Villa, a Toronto family physician, received a report of a woman who had travelled to Wuhan, a city outside of Hubei Province, China, that has been locked down due to the outbreak. Within days, de Villa learned that the woman had also contracted the coronavirus, and the same day, after the man who had contracted the virus died, he reported his symptoms to de Villa.
The woman, who had visited Wuhan for a family wedding and had a fever and dry cough, was diagnosed with the virus on April 27. By May 4, she was in a stable condition in a hospital room in Toronto, but de Villa learned of a second case, also an elderly woman, who had travelled to Wuhan, and had developed symptoms of the coronavirus a few days earlier. De Villa asked the province’s chief medical officer for help in tracing the woman’s travel history.
De Villa also began to hear from other Toronto residents who were sick. At around the same time, the Toronto public health unit started receiving reports of a number of people who had been exposed and who were under observation in the hospitals and labs. After a few days, de Villa discovered that the hospital was filled with patients who might need testing. So she asked the hospitals to send the residents to de Villa’s office to get tested, in case doctors and nurses