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Hamilton reflects on a year-long pandemic with anniversary of city’s first confirmed COVID-19 case

Hamilton's EOC director, Paul Johnson, mayor Fred Eisenberger and Dr. Elizabeth Richardson during a March 2020 press conference on COVID-19.
Hamilton's EOC director, Paul Johnson, mayor Fred Eisenberger and Dr. Elizabeth Richardson during a March 2020 press conference on COVID-19. Don Mitchell / Global News Hamilton

Since recording its first COVID-19 case on March 11, 2020, Hamilton has seen over 10,000 people become ill from the novel coronavirus and close to 300 succumb to the affliction in the last year.

The day the city had its first encounter with the virus is also the day the Canadian government has chosen as its National Day of Observance to commemorate those who lost their lives to the virus and others who felt significant impacts from the pandemic.

Government buildings across the province will join the country by lowering flags to half-mast for the remainder of the week.

Read more: Archived: Live updates on coronavirus in Canada

The Hamilton trio that makes up the city’s emergency response leadership team, reflecting on their encounter with COVID-19, says it’s unlike anything they’ve ever experienced.

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Hamilton’s medical officer of health, Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, says what has stood out for her amid the pandemic is how much it negatively impacted “every aspect” of lives in the community.

She cited the pandemic’s impact on the elderly, racialized communities, how we work and how we play, our ability to spend time with our families, and our mental health. 

Mayor Fred Eisenberger is reluctant to “celebrate” the anniversary, saying it’s more fitting to just acknowledge it.

Despite the pain inflicted by the virus, Eisenberger says he’s surprised that the vast majority of the community has adapted to the pandemic in an “agreeable way” with many understanding “what the need” has been in terms of living in a different way.

Read more: One year since Canada’s 1st COVID-19 case. Here’s how daily life has changed for some

I mean, who’d have thought that if we asked people to do this, that they would understand and appreciate why, then actually go out and do it?” Eisenberger says.

Emergency operations centre (EOC) director Paul Johnson says his experience in a typical emergency comes through a “short burst” and not a year-long campaign requiring a sustained response. The EOC boss says that what he remembers of the pandemic is how the community dug in to find solutions to the issue.

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“The story that I reflect on often, as I think about this year that we’re coming up to, is just how we’ve been able to sustain and really innovative — very positively — responsive elements to various parts of this crisis.”

What follows is a timeline that reflects on some of the major events Hamilton endured amid the outbreak:

March 11, 2020: A 32-year-old oncologist with the Juravinski Cancer Centre who lived in Burlington was the first reported person in Hamilton to test positive test for COVID-19. A joint statement from Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) and Halton Region Public Health (HRPH) says they received confirmation on March 10 and that it potentially was connected with a trip to Hawaii.

That discovery happens on the first day Ontario records its first COVID-19 death, a 77-year-old Barrie man.

Read more: Coronavirus: Physician tests positive for COVID-19 says Hamilton public health

March 12, 2020: Premier Doug Ford announces that publicly funded schools across the province will be closed for two weeks following March break. Later in the month, the province announces that schools will remain closed until at least May 31.

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Hamilton records its second COVID-19 case, a 52-year-old man who had just returned from a New York City trip.

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March 13, 2020: McMaster University and Mohawk College cancel all classes and non-core events at the schools and ask employees to avoid travelling outside of Canada.

Many local organizations follow suit, cancelling services and events that involve gatherings to avoid the potential spread of the virus.

Public health officers from all three regions say that it is unlikely that many will become infected with COVID-19, but that residents should be mindful that the situation is rapidly evolving, particularly with travel-related cases from abroad.

March 16, 2020: The province recommends the closure of all recreation programs, libraries, private schools, daycares, and churches and other faith settings, as well as bars and restaurants, except those that offer takeout or delivery.

Metrolinx scales back its service on GO Transit in the Hamilton and Niagara regions, cancelling all express bus trips between Hamilton and Toronto as well as train service to Niagara Falls.

March 17, 2020: Ford declares a state of emergency in Ontario while ordering some businesses to be closed, including daycares, bars and restaurants, theatres and private schools.

St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton announces it will begin COVID-19 screening protocols and is recommending staff, patients and visitors arrive at its health-care facilities at least 30 minutes before any scheduled appointments.

Read more: St. Joe’s hospital screening staff, visitors for COVID-19

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Hamilton public health reveals its first case tied to community transmission as opposed to travel.

March 18, 2020:  City announces HSR buses in Hamilton will be free, asks riders to use rear doors when boarding.

Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) hospitals announce COVID-19 screening protocols. The agency recommends patients and visitors arrive earlier than expected to its health-care facilities.

March 20, 2020: St. Joe’s and HHS implement a no-visitor policy.

March 23, 2020: Premier Ford orders the closure of all non-essential businesses across the province for 14 days. Some are surprised when the list of businesses ordered to close does not include liquor stores, construction projects and realty services.

March 24, 2020: Public health says the city’s first death tied to COVID-19 is an 80-year-old female resident from Heritage Green Nursing Home. She died at St. Joseph’s Hospital on Charlton Avenue East earlier in the morning.

March 27, 2020: Hamilton police charge an 18-year-old woman after she allegedly tried to get out of work at a local McDonald’s by submitting a fake doctor’s note claiming she tested positive for the coronavirus.

Read more: Worker at Hamilton McDonald’s charged after fake positive COVID-19 test closed restaurant

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March 30, 2020: The city reveals its first COVID-19 case tied to a shelter. The Salvation Army confirmed the man was transferred to an isolation shelter from the Booth Centre location at York Boulevard and Bay Street North.

April 23, 2020: COVID-19 forces Hamilton school board to cancel its prom and graduation ceremonies.

May 15, 2020: An outbreak involving 86 coronavirus cases at the Rosslyn retirement home on King Street East forces public health to transfer over 50 residents into city hospitals. Staff from St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton (SJHH) and Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) are deployed to the home to manage the surge. The outbreak would result in 16 deaths before being declared over in June. The home would also see its licence revoked in mid-June by an Ontario regulator.

July 17, 2020: Hamilton joins a number of other Ontario municipalities by passing a face mask bylaw requiring the general public to cover faces in public indoor spaces like retail, grocery stores, city facilities and public transit.

Aug. 12, 2020: Hamilton will receive just over $44.8 million as part of the provincial government’s first round of emergency funding for municipalities hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sept. 2, 2020: Hamilton public health reports four new cases of COVID-19, putting the city’s total number of cases over 1,000 since the pandemic began.

Read more: Hamilton’s coronavirus cases amid pandemic tops 1,000: public health

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Sept. 28, 2020: Premier Ford says the province is now officially in the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

Oct. 2, 2020: Ontario announces a province-wide mask policy as well as restrictions on the number of patrons in bars, restaurants, nightclubs, banquet halls, event spaces and gyms.

Oct. 6, 2020: Hamilton public health officials declare an outbreak at SPINCO spin studio after reporting cases among two patrons and a staff member. The outbreak would later grow to 74 cases.

Nov. 3, 2020: The province introduces a new five-tiered, colour-coded system for determining how it will regulate areas when during the COVID-19 pandemic. The following levels were used: prevent (standard measures — green), protect (strengthened measures — yellow), restrict (intermediate measures — orange), control (stringent measures — red), and lockdown (maximum measures — grey).

Nov. 13, 2020: Hamilton police charge the organizer of an anti-mask rally in front of city hall on Nov. 8. More than 100 people showed up at the “Hugs Over Masks” event, protesting restrictions under the Reopening Ontario Act, according to investigators.

Nov. 25, 2020: Hamilton public health declares an outbreak at the Grace Villa long-term care home (LTCH). By mid-December the COVID-19 caseload grew to over 170 cases and 18 virus-related deaths.

Read more: Public health concerned ‘right at the outset’ about outbreak at Hamilton’s Grace Villa

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Dec. 7, 2020: Premier Ford lays out his government’s three-part vaccination rollout plan. Vulnerable seniors, their caregivers, and health-care workers are among those who will get it first.

Hamilton passes 100 coronavirus-connected deaths. Two of the three deceased were women from the Grace Villa long-term care home (LTCH) on Upper Gage Avenue and a man in the community.

Dec. 9, 2020: Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine is officially approved for use in Canada, with limited rollout set to begin to priority groups “within days.”

Dec. 21, 2020: Doug Ford announces a “province-wide shutdown,” which will begin on Boxing Day and last for four weeks in southern areas of the province and two weeks in northern areas.

Dec. 23, 2020: Merdina Nangle-Palmer, a personal support worker and chief steward at Parkview Nursing Centre, was the first person to get a COVID-19 vaccine shot.

Dec. 26, 2020: Ontario confirms Canada’s first known cases of a COVID-19 variant that originated in the U.K. The cases involve a couple from Durham Region who were in contact with a recent traveller from the U.K.

Jan. 15, 2021: The Federal government announces that Pfizer will cut its vaccine shipments to Canada in half for four weeks as it works to retool its plant.

Read more: Coronavirus: Long-term care staff first in Hamilton to receive COVID-19 vaccine

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Feb. 16, 2021: Hamilton is one of 27 regions that move back to the colour-coded pandemic restrictions system used prior to a province-wide lockdown that began on Boxing Day. Toronto, York, Peel and North Bay-Parry Sound remain in lockdown.

Feb. 17, 2021: Public health says the new U.K. variant of COVID-19 has arrived in Hamilton after revealing a positive case. The B.1.1.7 variant, first identified in the United Kingdom, is believed to spread more easily and faster based on recent modelling and epidemiological studies.

Feb. 19, 2021: Hamilton surpasses 10,000 COVID-19 cases amid the pandemic.

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