MONTREAL -- Huy Hao Dao, the first doctor in Quebec known to have died of COVID-19, is being remembered by his friends and colleagues as a highly competent researcher and academic who was dedicated to public health.

Dao, 45, was working as a COVID-19 researcher and investigator, tracking down infected patients to learn how they caught the virus and tracing who they may have come into contact with, said good friend and colleague David-Martin Milot.

Horacio Arruda, Quebec's director of public health, said Dao did not work in a clinical setting so he could not have contracted the virus from working with patients. It remains unclear how he became infected.

Dao worked as a pharmacist before going to medical school and becoming a specialist in public health and preventive medicine.

He was employed by the public healthy authority of Quebec's Monteregie region, south of Montreal. Since 2018, he was also a faculty member of the community health sciences department at Universite de Sherbrooke.

Milot said his friend was "a great scientist" who knew about many different subjects and could be counted on to give sound medical advice.

Dao was also very humble and worked often in the background, Milot said.

"He wasn't the guy who stood in front of the cameras or the microphone. And that's why I wanted to talk to the media about him, because his job didn't let the public know who he was."

The department of public health for Quebec's Monteregie region said Dao will be remembered by his colleagues "for his competence, his dedication and his perpetual smile."