EVERETT, Wash. — It has been two years since a Snohomish County man was admitted to an Everett hospital with the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the U.S., marking the beginning of a long road for the entire country.
The man had just returned from a trip to Wuhan, China, where a novel virus outbreak was spreading quickly and filling hospitals beds. He walked into a Providence Medical Group clinic in Snohomish County on Jan. 20, 2020, feeling ill. The next day he was transported to Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett where he become the first confirmed case in the U.S.
The same day Patient Zero arrived at Providence, the chief of Providence Medical Center’s Division of Medicine had just returned from an infectious disease conference where everyone was talking about the new virus discovered in China.
In the beginning, everyone was hopeful it was come and go quickly.
But when Dr. George Diaz treated that first patient and saw how the virus operated, he knew it was going to have a huge impact on health systems across the county.
By the time the Delta surge hit last summer, the number of COVID patients at Providence peaked at 110. As of Thursday, that number has doubled to 220.
"You know just the sheer number of people in the hospital right now is incredible," said Diaz.
The low point of the pandemic, for Diaz, was when protests against vaccine mandates for healthcare workers erupted across the state, as nurses and staffers got sick and patients continued dying in the ICU.
"It's very stressful," he said. "We desperately need the nurses and doctors we have. They're doing a heroic job of treating very sick patients."
Diaz said the loss of many doctors and nurses will be felt for years to come. As we fight the sixth waves of the virus, Providence remains in "survival mode," he said.
"You know, we had the same with the first waves, the second waves, the third waves, the fourth waves, the fifth waves," said Diaz. "It's good to be hopeful but it's better to be proactive in dealing with this."
As Washingtonians continue to live through the sixth wave of COVID-19, and omicron variant transmission rates overwhelm hospitals, DOH staff said we are on a path to recovery.
"Our forecast remains that the next several weeks are going to be difficult, not just through January, but for the first few weeks of February," said Shah. "I want to remind people that it's like a rubber band. That constant tension can break the rubber band. We are doing everything we can so people can go on with their lives but can do so safely."
"We just have to try to survive week to week and get through this."
COVID in Washington
None of us knew that we would live under a pandemic cloud for so long, that hundreds of thousands of Americans would die, tens of thousands of businesses would shut down forever and that it would get much, much worse before it got better.
Washington state became the center of attention across the country in 2020. The country watched to see how we would respond.
Governor Jay Inslee answered with protocols and mandates that lead to a lengthy shut down across the state.
Two years later, Washington state has had more than one million reported cases of COVID-19 and more than 10,000 deaths.
In the midst of all the tragedy, the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) staff said the state has come a long way.
"We are learning a lot in real-time about how these vaccines work, how long protection works and how many doses we need for the best protection," said Michele Roberts, acting assistant secretary for the DOH, during a media briefing Wednesday.
As of January 16, DOH reports more than 2.2 million additional doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Washington state.
"We have now crossed an incredibly important threshold related to boosters. We're now over 50% of our population that's eligible for vaccine boosters, has received those boosters," said Dr. Umair Shah during the briefing, Washington state secretary of health.
Low-cost and free COVID-19 tests are becoming more and more available across the state and nation.
On Wednesday, the federal government launched a website allowing Americans to order up to four, free at-home COVID-19 tests per household.
Washington state will follow soon with a portal allowing households to order one free kit, with four to five at-home tests.