NEW YORK (PIX11) — Tuesday marked exactly two years since New York saw its first coronavirus case. In the 24 months since, a lot has happened in the fight against the virus, and some doctors who have worked on the front lines said that where the tri-state region is now, with high vaccination rates and low transmission rates, provides a good indication of what the months — and perhaps years — ahead may hold.
It was on March 1, 2020 that New York State and New York City announced a coronavirus diagnosis for the first time. The virus was found in a health care worker who’d recently returned to the city from a trip in Iran, where the virus had been widely documented at the time.
Nine days later, on March 10, former Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a “containment area” in New Rochelle, after a COVID-19 spreader event there.
Within the next week, the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic, and New York, sadly, saw its first COVID-related deaths.
Public schools, restaurants and bars were also shut down. And on March 22, 2020, the state was put on PAUSE, the governor’s program designed to prevent the spread.
Dr. Dyan Hes, the medical director of the Gramercy Pediatrics practice, recalled how the shutdown affected a wide variety of medical practitioners, including her and one of her adult patients, the latter of whom was among the first people infected.
“We were not allowed to go to work,” Dr. Hes recounted about the first days of the shutdown, when someone in her care had one of the most challenging scenarios. “I had a patient who gave birth. She was COVID positive, her husband was COVID positive and the baby was COVID positive … we did not know what to do. Luckily, like really nothing happened to any of them. They were all totally fine.”
But the doctor had to go to great lengths to see and care for the infant, with good reason. At that point, in mid-to-late March 2020, the city was averaging 50 deaths a day. In the next three weeks, that number would grow exponentially to nearly 800.
At the end of March, the federal government dispatched the USNS Comfort to New York. Around the same time, the state opened the Javits Center as a medical facility. Both developments were done to relieve city hospitals that were over capacity.
Deaths reached their peak in early April, with New York City accounting for a quarter of all deaths nationwide.
There wasn’t a noticeable decline until May of 2020.
On June 8, the first phase of reopening began, after three months of the state’s stay-at-home order.
Cases declined over the summer and fall of 2020, only to start rising again in December.
That month, though, brought with it a very significant development. On Dec. 14, the first COVID-19 vaccine dose in the country was administered, with nurse Sandra Lindsey receiving it.
Dr. Hes, whose practice was still shuttered, joined the front lines against the virus.
“I became a full-time volunteer giving out immunizations to the adults,” she said. “So I was there the first day that the vaccines were released in New York City.”
By March 1, 2021, the city had administered 2 million doses, which helped lead to a gradual reopening, that happened officially on June 15 of last year.
The city saw its lowest 7-day average rate that week.
On July 7 was the Salute to Heroes Ticker Tape parade.
PIX11 News warned then that the pandemic was not yet over. Before July was through, the delta variant sparked a rise in cases.
It was followed by the omicron variant this past fall.
Nearly 100,000 people in the tii-state area have passed away from COVID, but more than 17 million doses of vaccine have been administered in New York City alone.
The vaccination rate for the region is among the highest in the country, at 76% fully vaccinated, and about 10% more having gotten at least one dose.
Looking forward, the doctors who’ve had to deal with so many cases firsthand provide the assessment.
“I think that Covid is just going to be [an] endemic,” said Dr. Hes. “It’s going to be something that we test for just like previous coronaviruses that we’ve dealt with that are the common cold.”
The last word comes from the first doctor PIX11 News ever interviewed about the virus.
Dr. Purvi Parikh of NYU and the Allergy and Asthma Network, first mentioned needing N95 masks, social distancing, and other precautions, in early February 2020.
Her assessment going forward is cautiously optimistic.
“We’re in much better shape than we were a year ago, even 6 months ago,” Dr. Parikh said. “I think there’s still a lot of work to be done, but at least we’re in much better shape. We’re moving in the right direction. Hopefully, we can handle what comes our way, even if it’s unexpected.”