This picture of Taghum resident Marc Savard was taken in February when he first spoke to the Nelson Star and little was known about the virus that had shut him out of his job in Wuhan, China. Photo: Tyler Harper

VIDEO: Once an outlier, Nelson man’s COVID-19 experience now typical

Savard was living in Wuhan, China, when the pandemic began

Ten months ago, Marc Savard felt a responsibility to inform his community about a virus that hadn’t yet become a global pandemic.

That’s no longer the case. But for one of the first Canadians to have his personal life impacted by COVID-19, 2020 has been a surreal year.

When Savard first spoke to the Nelson Star in February about how he was unable to return to a teaching job in Wuhan, China, what was then referred to as 2019-nCoV was mostly limited to the city and its surrounding province.

“Now I can say I was in Wuhan and everybody knows where it is. I didn’t know where it was when I was offered a teaching position there,” said the Taghum resident in an interview Thursday.

“But now I know that if you say that, people know exactly where it is now. So we put Wuhan on the map I guess.”

Savard had been living in Wuhan for just two months when he returned home on Jan. 20 to visit his wife and two sons. Just two days after he left Wuhan, the city entered a quarantine and Savard was stuck in Canada.

At the time, Savard’s experience was a novelty. Only seven Canadians had tested positive for the virus, and there had been no deaths.

But Canada has now had 353,097 total cases of COVID-19 and 11,799 deaths as of Nov. 26, according to Health Canada, and Savard’s experience has changed from novel to familiar.

Savard taught his Chinese students virtually through the spring semester, and when it became clear he couldn’t return he gave up his apartment. Most of his colleagues left, and the ones who didn’t later realized they were stuck.

One teaching family he knew from Cranbrook were travelling through Vietnam and Thailand when the lockdowns began. They opted to stay in Asia even as flights were being grounded.

“They ended up being in Thailand renting a little apartment for the whole semester, like five, six months maybe. I think they returned to China not long ago.”

Savard meanwhile recommitted to staying put. His family had been set to join him in China, but instead they’ve focused on spending time together.

Constant media coverage has also meant Savard no longer feels like he needs to be explaining the virus to friends and family.

He took a job at Trafalgar Middle School as a Grade 8 French immersion teacher, where he’s found his students have kept an open mind about the growing number of safety restrictions.

“I was happily surprised to see how students responded. [They] showed a good maturity about it,” he said.

“They showed that they know we do our best to keep everyone safe. I guess if it is presented like that — it’s for their own safety, it’s for everyone’s safety that we do this — they understand that. I’m happy with the way they respond and they’re really patient as well with things going on.”

Friends still jokingly refer to Savard as Patient Zero — he’s never had COVID-19 — and others have described him as lucky for returning home when he did.

But for Savard, who expected to spend the year abroad, 2020 still feels like a let-down. In that regard, he’s now like everyone else.

“I ended up spending nine weeks only in China for something that I hoped was a longer experience, because that’s was why I was going there. So I wanted to return because it’s not enough, nine weeks.

“But yeah, it is what it is.”

Related: As the coronavirus spreads, a Nelson man waits to return to China

@tyler_harper | tyler.harper@nelsonstar.com

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