A seasoned reporter who has tackled her fair share of tough stories, Patricia Boal, co-anchor of CTV Ottawa’s News at Six, has admittedly never experienced anything quite like the COVID-19 pandemic during her twenty-six-year career. And the reality of the deadly virus grew much more palpable when it infiltrated her tight-knit family, infecting Patricia’s husband Gord Wilson. A colour commentator for Ottawa Senators broadcasts on TSN 1200, he had been covering the team’s road trip through San Jose, Anaheim and Los Angeles in mid-March.
“The interesting thing is that he probably shouldn’t have been back at work or travelling at all because he had a minor heart attack in February,” explains Patricia. “But he was desperate to go back to work and he took the necessary precautions so that could happen.”
Postponement of the NHL season due to the coronavirus outbreak forced Gord’s premature return to Ottawa, and when he began complaining of known symptoms associated with the virus, including a persistent cough, Patricia persuaded her 59-year-old husband to get tested “just to rule it out.” The following day, news broke that one of the Ottawa Senators players present on the same plane as Gord had tested positive for COVID-19.
Patricia explains that, while awaiting his test results, Gord became quite ill, with incessantly low energy and breathing difficulties, and the couple found themselves weighing the options of a trip to the hospital’s emergency room.
“I was hoping we made the right call by not going to the hospital,” says Patricia. “I was reading all the worst case scenarios—people looking after their loved ones in apartments and waking up to find them passed out on the couch. It was nerve-wracking for sure.”
A positive COVID-19 test result eleven days later wasn’t exactly a huge surprise, she says, although an unexpected turn of events remained right around the corner for the news veteran.
Required to isolate because of her possible exposure to the virus via her husband, Patricia found herself in quarantine for the requisite 14 days, leading to another first: she wouldn’t be anchoring the nightly flagship six o’clock news from CTV Ottawa’s station in the ByWard Market, but rather from her own backyard in the Stonebridge area of Barrhaven.
“The snow was still out there and just melting and we have a dog, which revealed the dog poop in the grass,” she laughs. “But we took pictures and figured out a spot and the cameraman, who shot from a distance, came the next day. We did several broadcasts from the backyard, which was great. It was a nice, short commute! I never thought that I’d be able to work from home.”
The veteran anchor admits that, having occasionally day-dreamed about working from home, she’s learned not to take for granted the social, high-energy aspect of a newsroom, despite the fact that she’s still not a fan of the winter commute. “Short-term it was a wonderful option and really fun and I’m glad I could do it, but long-term there’s nothing quite like being in the studio, under the lights, with really great coworkers.”
Patricia admits that juggling a full house, including the couple’s three children and a sick husband with a virus that was killing rising numbers worldwide, was one of the most stressful periods of her life. “It was just the most exhausting experience I think I’ve ever been through.” She says she didn’t have to look too far, however, to find a silver lining.
“We went through one of the hardest things we’ve gone through as a family. But, we were together and sitting on the couch in the evening watching movies and just having that really uninterrupted chunk of family time that a lot of people don’t get.”