TORONTO -- One year ago today, health officials in Ontario confirmed Canada’s first presumptive case of COVID-19, though at the time the novel coronavirus hadn’t yet been named.

The risk to Canadians was still considered “low.” Talk of “physical distancing” or widespread masking hadn’t entered the conversation. Experts believed that the virus wasn’t easily transmitted between people.

Much has changed. The country has logged more than 19,000 deaths related to COVID-19 and more than 750,000 confirmed cases. Plus, more than ever before, doctors became mainstays of news broadcasts over the last year.

“It feels like a decade, to be fair,” said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist at Toronto General Hospital.

Experts like Bogoch, Dr. Abdu Sharkawy, and Dr. Jerome Leis, who joined CTV’s Your Morning and CTV News Channel on Monday to reflect on one year with COVID-19, said that while the gravity of the pandemic has never been more apparent than it is now, officials may have underestimated the SARS-COV-2 in the early weeks of 2020.

“The breadth of how severe this virus is and how it just could, quite frankly, bring the world to its knees, wasn’t appreciated,” said Bogoch, adding that early signs suggested it would spread beyond China, but it was difficult to say how far and how aggressively.

In the early days, officials stressed that previous experience with the SARS epidemic had prepared health-care workers well to address cases of the novel coronavirus. But it wasn’t long before the comparison to 2003 became irrelevant, said Leis, medical director of infection prevention and control at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto, where he treated the first Canadian patient with COVID-19.

“Very shortly after that first case, it became very clear that this was much more than that,” he told CTV News Channel. “Despite the fact that there were very few cases being confirmed within Canada, it was very [clear] … that it was a gross underestimate of the number that were entering the country.” 

For Sharkawy, an infectious disease expert at Toronto General Hospital, the one year we’ve been living with COVID-19 feels like many more.

“We’ve probably gone through about 20 dog years in one,” he said. While the health care community learned a lot during the first wave of the pandemic in the spring, the exponential toll that the year has had on him and his coworkers can’t be understated, he added.

“It starts to wear you down. It’s hard to ignore the tragedies that we see unfolding in front of us everywhere. Young people dying, long-term care being ravaged, people losing their livelihoods and their businesses, people suffering from chronic depression and mental health issues,” he said.

“When you start to amass all of that and you absorb it, it’s very difficult. It’s very exacting in terms of the toll that takes. You need to work through that. It takes a tremendous amount of support and patience and gratitude for everybody who helps. I’m terrifically grateful for so many people who’ve helped me.”

For the next year, all three men said they hope for a speedier vaccine rollout as officials iron out kinks in the process. And when the pandemic slows, they hope that the country can address the systemic issues the last year has brought to the surface.

“This really exposed a lot of the equity issues that we have in Canada,” said Bogoch. “When this pandemic is winding down, I hope we don’t lose momentum in addressing those head-on.”