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The 1-year anniversary of our first COVID-19 case is time for reflection and hope

This past Saturday was a day for reflection and hope.

It marked the 1-year anniversary of the first Pierce County resident testing positive for COVID-19. My thoughts turned to those who were sickened, those who lost their lives, and their family and friends.  

That same day, almost 2,000 people received second doses of COVID-19 vaccine at three separate Health Department-sponsored community events. Across the country, 2 million people received vaccine doses. While I am tired, I am proud of what we have accomplished and am feeling hopeful that the fear and suffering will end soon.

We came together as a community.

The past year has brought major challenges and changes to our community. Pierce County has had more than 36,000 confirmed cases and at least 470 deaths caused by the virus. In that time, we have had to stay at home; learn to wear masks; and change how we work, learn, socialize, and do business.

We have worked together as a community. Healthcare workers and others on the front lines of the pandemic risk their own lives to help those who are sick. Essential workers provide the food, supplies, and services we need.

I am especially proud of my colleagues at the Health Department and our many partners. They work tirelessly to control and prevent COVID-19, inform and educate the public, help those in need, and make our community safer in so many ways.

Work started before our first case.

We began preparing for COVID-19 before that first positive test. We activated a team in January 2020 and quickly expanded our emergency response with many partners. We worked with city, town, county, and state government; fire; police; schools; emergency managers; healthcare providers; businesses; and community organizations to respond to the pandemic.

Working with those partners, over the next few months we:

  • Helped people get tested, including nearly 1,000 at a drive-through event at the Tacoma Dome.
  • Ensured medical providers and first responders had personal protective equipment.
  • Sent nurses to long term care facilities to help them test and control infection.
  • Established our website and social media as go-to, easily accessible sources for COVID-19 information.
  • Opened a temporary care center for those who needed a safe place to quarantine or isolate.

We focused on investigations and data reporting.

Within days of the first case, we were reporting cases and other data. We have expanded and simplified how we report over time to provide you with detailed information on COVID-19’s effect on our community. We have used our blog to explain where those numbers come from and what they mean.

Our investigations team grew as cases increased. To limit the spread of infection, members made thousands of calls to those who tested positive for COVID-19. They asked about symptoms, and who the people may have come in contact with. They provided information on how to isolate and made sure people’s needs were met. They tracked down contacts and helped them quarantine and get testing and the care they need. Most people they spoke with recovered. But they also heard heartbreaking stories. And their work continues.  

What we learned through testing.

Tens of thousands were tested at our mobile and mass testing sites and at doctors’ offices. We also focused on testing our vulnerable populations, including those living homeless. We learned some people suffer more than others. Poverty, lack of access to healthcare, racism, and other social and economic conditions leave some people less protected. That knowledge now informs our approach to vaccinations. And it will change all we do in the future.

Throughout the year we worked with local school districts on how to best balance:

  • Parents’ and administrators’ concerns about children’s educational, social, and emotional needs.
  • Staff’s concerns about children’s needs and their own safety.
  • Our concerns about disease transmission and community health.

That work included our school testing pilot. We tested more than 4,000 students and staff and completed close to 10,000 rapid antigen tests. Our COVID-19 positivity rate was 0.2%. The program gave us hope we could safely bring students back for in-person learning. And as students return to classrooms, we continue to work with our local districts.

Hope for the future.

While the pandemic is not over yet, we have started to see signs of hope. COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Pierce County in December. In just three months, people have received more than 178,000 doses in Pierce County. More than 65,000 county residents are fully vaccinated. As more and more vaccine becomes available—along with opportunities to access it—these numbers will continue to increase. If you have not gotten vaccinated yet, your turn is coming!

We are seeing more vaccine appointments become available. Healthcare providers and pharmacies are adding more appointments. And more vaccine providers have been added to our list.  

On Monday, CDC provided more reason for hope. Its latest guidelines give people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 more freedom to visit with loved ones and get back to more daily routines.

And later this month, more of you will be eligible for the vaccine. That is when the state opens up Phase 1B Tier 2. Expect two more tiers to open by April 26. This will allow more essential workers and younger people with serious health issues to receive vaccine.

We have learned many lessons from the pandemic. It revealed more about the health disparities that persist in our community. We all have more work to do to ensure all residents can reach their full health potential.

The darkest days of the pandemic tested us in ways we never imagined. But after a year of challenges, our community is more resilient as we look to a future of hope and healing. The past year has been difficult, but the year ahead is looking brighter.

Learn more about vaccines at tpchd.org/vaxtothefuture.

Mount Rainier seen from a distance with snow at the top