Matt Greenshields is pretty much everywhere these days. Maybe you’ve seen him before a YouTube video or while you’re scrolling down your Twitter feed. His voice might have even snuck between songs on your Spotify playlist.
The business student, who was one of Canada’s earlier COVID-19 cases, stars in a frequently played public service announcement from the Public Health Agency of Canada. A healthy, athletic student at the University of Calgary in early March, he headed home to Okotoks, Alta. when he started to experience body aches and what felt like symptoms of a cold.
“At the time I got sick, there was no way I thought it was COVID-19,” says Greenshields in the PSA, sitting on a couch in his parents’ house, south of Calgary. “I’m a healthy 19-year-old guy who loves to play sports and I still managed to get the virus.”
Greenshields’ condition worsened and he was taken to the hospital, where he was put on oxygen in the intensive care unit and fed through an IV. Doctors found that on top of the mononucleosis he was already fighting, he had contracted the highly contagious novel coronavirus.
Greenshields recovered and is now adjusting to the fame that comes with being the national face of COVID-19.
“I never originally thought that this post of this PSA was going to go as big as it did,” he told HuffPost Canada on Sunday. “I would just post stuff on my personal Instagram account or TikTok and I was starting to get comments from those that were saying, ‘Are you the guy from the app?’
“And then I kind of realized that a lot more people know me than I think.”
Greenshields had shared his COVID-19 experience with Calgary media, so when an advertising firm working with the Public Health of Canada needed a voice for a PSA, they reached out to him.
He started getting recognized when he left the house, with people asking if he was the “COVID-19 guy.”
“It’s honestly just so super unexpected and weird for me to be known as that,” he said. “Like I was known as that around my town for the first bit, and now it’s all over Canada.”
People seem to be feeling the fatigue of seeing the same PSA over and over again, and Greenshields admits even he is seeing his own ad pop up once or twice a day, “at least.”
“That’s the question I get all the time, is people asking, ‘Do you see your own ad?’ he said. “I see it. I see it as much as everyone else does.”
But it’s worth it, Greenshields said, when he is hearing from people who said his case opened their eyes to the reality of COVID-19.
“The reality of it is that I am really young,” he said. “Typically people think that people my age aren’t as at risk, but I wanted to come forward and explain like, ‘It happened to me, it could happen to you.’”
Greenshields has taken the absurdity of the situation and made it work on the social video platform TikTok — where his bio is “Covid Boy.”
First, he made a cheeky apology for “interrupting your Spotify music, Snapchat videos and YouTube videos all the time.”
Then he parodied his own PSA.
He addressed how daunting it can be to see his commercial over and over and over again.
And yes, he’s seen the comments on Twitter and Facebook.
Greenshields said being able to laugh about what was a life-and-death situation has helped his own COVID-19 recovery.
“Obviously it took quite a mental toll on me,” said Greenshields, who celebrated his 20th birthday a few days ago. He was mostly isolated in the ICU, and his family wasn’t allowed to be closeby when he was diagnosed. He described it as the “worst night of his life.”
“It’s fun to have this ‘celebrity’ status and be able to make jokes about it and then get a lot of positivity from it — it’s definitely helping my mental health in that way.”
He’s glad that people appreciate his sense of humour about it, and that the PSA is making an impact on them. But the circumstances are still unusual.
“It’s hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that this fame came from me having the coronavirus, which is very strange.”
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