Science and Tech


Doctor who treated first US COVID-19 case weighs in 4 years later

The World Health Organization declared the global COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic on March 11, 2020.
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Posted at 5:09 PM, Mar 11, 2024

It’s been four years since the World Health Organization formally declared the global COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic on March 11, 2020.

Two days later, then-President Donald Trump declared the COVID-19 pandemic severe enough to issue an emergency declaration for the country.

COVID-19 temporarily shut down businesses and daily life in 2020, changing how we operated and interacted with others. In May 2023, the WHO declared the end of the pandemic.

So what now?

“It feels like the pandemic is starting to wind down a little bit. The current circulating strains aren't quite as deadly as they were,” said Dr. George Diaz, the chief of medicine at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett and an infectious disease specialist.

Dr. Diaz was the one to treat the first confirmed COVID-19 patient in the country, in Everett, Washington.

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“We did admit the first COVID patient in the U.S. into our hospital in January of 2020,” he said.

“We didn't know the disease at the beginning, we didn't know the symptoms associated with the disease,” Dr. Diaz told Scripps News in a February 2021 interview. “We used more PPE in our hospital during our first month of the pandemic than our entire 50-hospital health system used in a full year.”

Now we know more about the virus and how it works. We have FDA-approved vaccines, numerous medical studies, and better treatment and prevention options.

“There have been thousands and thousands of papers written on COVID for a variety of different areas,” Dr. Diaz said.

Diaz said more research is still being done, especially on long COVID. But the virus no longer consumes his everyday work and he’s able to get back to teaching and focusing on other routine infectious diseases.

He said the U.S. had made a lot of advancements technologically with the virus and its treatment — but national outcomes of the pandemic weren't as good as in some other countries.

“These differences in outcomes were directly linked to a difference in public policy from state to state, which is something that didn't occur in places like Japan, South Korea," he said.

He hopes the lessons learned from the response to COVID-19 can help us in the future.

“The work is still ongoing and I’d say that we've learned a lot about this disease in the past four years. And hopefully, humankind will learn from what we learned from COVID and how to deal with another pandemic that will be coming our way at some point. We know that pandemics occur about every 20, 30 years, so in our lifetimes there will probably be another one,” he said.

@scrippsnews The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a #pandemic four years ago. We discussed the anniversary and lessons learned with the doctor who is known for treating the first confirmed COVID-19 case in the country. #covid #healthtok ♬ original sound - Scripps News

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