Calgary comedian hospitalized with COVID-19 says he didn’t take warnings seriously before falling ill

A Calgary comedian hospitalized with a serious case of COVID-19 said he’s learned a valuable lesson, and admits he previously didn’t take the health restrictions as seriously as he should have.

Stu Hughes was trying to make the 20th season of FunnyFest a memorable one, even with health restrictions limiting his venue options and ticket sales.

Read more: AHS projections show more than 1,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations by Dec. 24

Hughes founded the comedy festival, and said he had good intentions when he rescheduled shows normally held in June.

“We were trying to be a catalyst for physical and mental well being through the gift of laughter,” said Hughes. “We thought, ‘We’re sharing in the central service for mental health.’ Then on Nov. 24, everything was shut down.”

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The final five shows of the festival were canceled after the province declared a state of a public health emergency.

But within days of the festival coming to the end, Hughes said he and at least eight other comedians and volunteers tested positive for COVID-19.

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Several people Hughes spoke to believe they were exposed at the festival’s final show on Nov. 24, at the Weaselhead Bar and Grill in southwest Calgary.

A manager from Weaselhead said they were notified of the positive cases, and that all staff tested negative for the virus.

For more than a week, Hughes said he stayed home with a high fever, but he eventually checked into the Rockyview Hospital and was treated for pneumonia complications associated with COVID-19.

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“I thought I was going to die,” said Hughes. “Alberta Health Services brought me back from the brink.”

Prior to getting sick, Hughes admits that he did not take the health warnings seriously, including while he was organizing the festival.

“I wasn’t always 100 per cent vigilant, especially [while] doing things functionally and logistically,” said Hughes. “I wasn’t 100 per cent always having a mask on and [doing] things like sanitizing.

“I got complacent and I was 100 per cent wrong for that — personally — but the volunteers and staff were never complacent. I got sick and it was an extreme wake-up call.”

Read more: Stigma of COVID-19 left Alberta ‘long hauler’ and her family feeling ostracized

Now, Hughes is calling on others who have the same mindset as he had before falling ill to change their habits.

“Do not take this lightly, I’m just lucky to be alive” said Hughes. “I know I learned a valuable lesson.”

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Hughes is recovering and said while he hopes to go back to sharing laughs, he’s thankful for the current restrictions in place across Alberta.

Sharing COVID-19 experiences

Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious disease expert from the University of Alberta, encourages people like Hughes to share their stories.

“I think that when people are banded together by a common belief… there’s a certain amount of groupthink,” said Saxinger.

“If someone who is… an opinion leader in the group actually has an experience… I really think that it does potentially help make everyone reassess whether the foundations that they were basing their actions on are accurate.”

Saxinger added that telling others about a COVID-19 experience can help in the battle against misinformation, even if it’s only among friends and family.

“If people were comfortable to share their experiences even privately within their own groups or on social media, I think it would help increase the perception of the reality of what we’re facing.”

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