COVID-19 arrives in America: A look back on the one year anniversary

Medical Watch

A year ago Thursday, the virus that causes COVID-19 came to America.

We didn’t have a name for it then. Last January it was simply called the novel coronavirus. Soon doctors identified is as SARS CoV-2. And as people got gravely ill and deaths piled up, they named the killer disease COVID-19.

We saw China panic. Illness spread, bodies mount. It was December. They called it pneumonia. And at the time no one believed the mysterious illness would threaten Americans.

By January 7 it had a name, novel coronavirus 2019, 2019-NCOV, initially reported to be associated with seafood markets in Wuhan province.

NATS: He was hospitalized, and we are very happy to say he’s in satisfactory condition

Then it happened – the first U.S. case in Washington state. A traveler from China. The CDC confirmed the diagnosis on January 21, that is the same day China acknowledged person-to-person transmission.

“I have today declared that the coronavirus presents a public health emergency in the United States,” Alex Azar, former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services said on January 31.

With the introduction of the White House coronavirus task force, Dr Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, became the first trusted U.S. expert to answer growing questions and concerns.

“The worst is, yes, ahead for us,” he said. “It is how we respond to that challenge that is going to determine what the ultimate endpoint is going to be.”

Immediately President Donald Trump closed entry points in America to anyone from China and ultimately Europe. But it did not stop the arrival and spread of the virus.

Chicago, The Second City, had the distinction of having the second diagnosed novel coronavirus case.

By early March passengers on cruise ships are diagnosed with COVID-19. Frantic, many called home to say they were stuck at sea.

With more questions than answers in the early days of the pandemic there were often conflicting messages from elected officials.

“As you can see, I’m not wearing a mask and I won’t be because I don’t think it’s necessary,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said at the time.


March 11 was the official pandemic designation and the launch of restrictions in the U.S. New drugs were being tested to potentially fight the growing threat. WGN News devoted an entire show each night to COVID-19, documenting the growing scientific knowledge.

And we had to stay at home.

“I am ordering all bars and restaurants in the State of Illinois to close to the public. We will close all K-12 schools, public and private,” Gov. JB Pritzker said.

The shutdowns, which were supposed to last a month, were meant to thwart the dreaded second wave as hospitals were taxed and patient deaths mounted.

Dr Michelle Prickett is a Northwestern Medicine Pulmonologist explained at the time, “These patients take a lot of work to get them better. They can get better, but it comes at a lot of manpower and cost to our providers both physically emotionally. So, taking care of critically ill patients you, can’t talk to their family face-to-face, you can’t offer human solace like you normally would. That is something I wish I would have prepared better for.”

We weren’t prepared for the sobering sights and statistics inside the Covid ICU.

The public got an education in ventilators as well as its first look at the image that would be emblazoned in everyone’s mind — the dreaded spike protein. In the coming months debate over its airborne transmission would reverse earlier recommendations on masks.

The worst of times brought out the best in people.

Quarantined and alone, we found new ways to connect with loved ones.

The virus may have changed our daily lives, but there was hope in the next chapter.

 “Our task is so urgent that under Operation Warp Speed the federal government will invest in all of the top vaccine candidates before they are approved,” Trump announced.

The vaccine was not the only hope for immunity. By now more and more people who survived Covid were part of antibody studies revealing the infection offered future protection. And their plasma could be infused in others to help fight the virus.

Throughout the summer, tests were in short supply as was toilet paper as people panicked, this disease we thought would never cause chaos in this country had now changed our life as we knew it.

For some survivors, diminished taste and smell, shortness of breath and heart ailments mounted. At the same time, mutations were identified showing SARS CoV-2 was changing and becoming even more contagious. Now several new strains are under observation.

October saw the Covid threat reach the White House in a new way. A cocktail of medications including steroids, antibodies and an anti-malaria drug and oxygen delivery and Trump rapidly recovered after staying at Walter Reed Medical Center for three days.

Global cases having topped 40 million. By November the U.S. charted 100,000 cases in a single day. The rapid rise was offset by a flurry of vaccine results, all positive. Efficacy numbers began to roll in.

“We learned the vaccine appears to be highly efficacious, 95 percent effective. That’s really good news, shockingly good news,” UIC Chief of Infectious Diseases Dr Richard Novak said.

By year’s end an emergency use authorization and vaccine doses began their journey to healthcare organizations across the nation.

For some, the celebration has turned to frustration as doses have rolled out much more slowly than expected. In the quest for herd immunity, we have a long way to go.

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