EVERETT, Wash. — As Washington state lifted most of its COVID-19 restrictions, Wednesday, Dr. George Diaz in Everett took a moment to look back at the past 15 months.
"We heard what was going on in Wuhan," he said. "When we got the call for our patient zero we had been preparing for a storm," he said.
That storm would soon sweep all across America with Everett's Providence Medical Center helping navigate a nervous nation through completely uncharted waters.
"We really didn't know much about what the disease course was quite yet," said Diaz, an infectious disease specialist at the hospital, "so we didn't really know what to expect."
Last January, Diaz treated "patient zero," a Snohomish County man who had recently traveled to Wuhan, China.
That man was also the first in the country to be given the experimental drug Remdesivir to fight coronavirus, as directed by Diaz and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Patient zero survived, but many more more who came through the hospital's doors did not.
At one point, as coronavirus continued its relentless death march, Providence housed 120 COVID-19 patients, 40 of them packed into the ICU.
"This has been pretty traumatic for everybody," said Diaz. "I, for one, have seen way too many people die from COVID, and we still continue to see some deaths."
But even as businesses reopen, and Washington tries to put coronavirus behind it, the disease continues to kill.
Cases have stopped declining in Snohomish County -- something typically followed by an increase.
Deadlier and more contagious mutations of the virus are impacting more young people.
"I'm very concerned that we're going to see, potentially, more cases in my county and specifically at my hospital," said Diaz.
Looking forward to fall and winter, as kids return to school and people head indoors, Diaz said there is a slight potential for more mask mandates and even localized lockdowns in those parts of the state that continue to struggle with low vaccination rates.
"The people who are going to continue to get sick and die from this disease are those who are not getting vaccinated," he said.
Diaz noted that masks might be here to stay, at least during flu season.
During this past year, Washington state did not record a single death from the common flu. Experts believe that's largely because most residents were masked up and distanced.
Diaz said the only way to truly defeat COVID-19 is for everyone to get vaccinated, "because otherwise it is only going to continue and we'll see more needless deaths occur because of this."
And while brighter days are surely ahead, Diaz issued a reminder that storm clouds still loom.
"These stories are real. These are aunts and uncles, grandparents and siblings. It's our community and we have to take care of each other. This isn't over. Not by a longshot."