TORONTO -- Looking back on January 23, 2020, emergency department nurse Natacha Hainzelin said she and her team at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto were all very aware that the virus now known as COVID-19 could arrive at any time.

Little did Hainzelin know that she and colleague Shauna Tavernier would soon become part of history as the emergency department nurses to care for the first COVID-19 patient in Canada.

“We got a heads up from paramedics that a patient with symptoms and recent travel to Wuhan was en route, so we prepared the negative pressure room,” said Hainzelin.

The 56-year-old patient arrived at Sunnybrook with what appeared to be a mild case of pneumonia.

Dr. Jerome Leis, the hospital's medical director of infection prevention and control, was there and recalls the unusual nature of the man’s X-rays.

"We'd never seen a case like this before," said Leis. "I'd never seen an X-ray quite like that one."

The patient was admitted and despite what was known about COVID-19 at the time, Hainzelin said that the potential risk of exposure wasn’t top of mind.

“I felt protected in my personal protective equipment (PPE) and our first priority was making sure the patient was stable.”

From there, the pair of experienced nurses worked in tandem. Tavernier conducted the nasopharyngeal swab while Hainzelin processed the patient’s blood work.


Two days later, Public Health Ontario would confirm that the patient was in fact the first case of “Wuhan Novel Coronavirus” recorded in the province.

“When we got confirmation of his diagnosis, it was quite something to grasp that we cared for the first COVID-19 patient in Canada,” Hainzelin said.

On the anniversary of that day, both Hainzelin and Tavernier agree that they are even more prepared to care for COVID-19 infected patients now than when they treated who is now known as “Patient Zero.”

READ MORE: One year of COVID-19 in Ontario: Where are we now?

“We’re certainly ready to take on the second wave, but without any reservations, because we are very cautious and we are always reflecting on what we could to better to protect the public and also out families,” Hainzelin told CP24 on Monday.

“We always have to anticipate the worst, but we also have to make sure that we continue to protect other.”

And while the province continues its fight against the spread of COVID-19, Tavernier says she will never forget being at the epicentre of such a historic event.

“I think it’s permanently embedded in my brain,” she said.