A B.C. dentist who attended a Vancouver conference at the centre of a coronavirus outbreak has died of suspected COVID-19 complications, according to friends and family.
Dr. Denis Vincent, who was in his 60s, died this past weekend at his Vancouver home, according to a longtime friend, who said he had been in his dentist’s chair for an appointment little more than a week previously.
Vincent’s death is raising questions over why all patients at his practice were not alerted about his illness.
He had attended the Pacific Dental Conference at the Vancouver Convention Centre March 5-7.
The nearly 15,000 people at that conference were told on March 16 to self-isolate by the provincial health officer, who confirmed that several cases of COVID-19 had been traced to the event, one of the largest of its kind in North America.
Vincent’s friend Fardad Moayeri said Vincent had not gone to hospital because he didn’t want to put stress on the health system.
People with symptoms of COVID-19 are asked to use a self-assessment tool online, which does not recommend going to the hospital unless the person is experiencing breathing difficulties or other serious health issues.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry told reporters Tuesday afternoon that she is aware of Vincent’s death, and that while he was confirmed as a COVID-19 patient, it has not been confirmed that his death was the result of the coronavirus.
“It is tragic that he passed away and I understand that the coroner is investigating,” she said. “Once the circumstances are confirmed I’ll be able to share that with you.”
She also said that any patients who may have been exposed to the coronavirus during appointments with Vincent have been notified.
Vincent’s family has asked for privacy, and in a statement said he was a “principled dental surgeon deeply committed to maintaining the highest standards of professionalism and health care for his patients.”
‘Concerned and confused’
Moayeri said he’s known Vincent for 21 years. He was his friend and his dentist. Moayeri said he last saw him when he was at his North Vancouver practice on March 12.
“I am really concerned and confused,” said Moayeri, choking back tears as he described how he learned about his longtime friend’s death on Sunday.
“I was totally shocked because I’d seen him on the 12th, and he was fine. He was in my mouth. He was in my son’s mouth.”
Moayeri said his appointment was before health officials first alerted the public that day that there may have been exposure to the virus at the dental conference. Even then the risk of exposure was described as “extremely low.”
“Denis was the most professional and talented dentist I have ever used. He was the most hygienic person I have ever known. Denis would never jeopardize his patients nor do anything that would endanger his friends, family or community,” Moayeri said in a message.
Moayeri says Vincent’s family members told him he became progressively ill over the past week. He thinks Vincent died in his sleep because of respiratory distress.
He said he is trying to support Vincent’s two adult sons, who he says are devastated, and he is very concerned about their health. He said both are in self-isolation, and at least one is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
Moayeri said he worries that his own family members are at risk of developing COVID-19. He’s been left wondering why his friend didn’t reach out when he fell ill.
He is also confused as to why he and other patients who attended the dental office have not been alerted by Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) of the risk of exposure to the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Several other patients who were seen by Vincent have come forward to CBC News, saying they also received no notification. None reported appointments after the date conference-goers were told to self-isolate. All described Vincent as fastidious and professional.
CBC News has contacted VCH but has yet to receive a response.
Moayeri said Vincent was very strict about hygiene, going so far as to spray bleach on his shoes and asking guests to do the same before entering his home.
“He was a bit of a hygiene freak, which is what’s so weird about this,” said Moayeri.
At his March 12 appointment with Vincent, Moayeri said the office assured him that the strict hygiene guidelines they always followed would be in place to ensure patient safety in light of the coronavirus outbreak.
He said Vincent never took off his personal protective wear during the exam.
“He’s always careful,” Moayeri said.
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