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Doctor, COVID-19 survivor reflects on year anniversary of first confirmed case in United States

A doctor and a nurse who work in local COVID ICUs, and a COVID-19 survivor look back on the year since the first case of COVID in the U.S.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The world witnessed scientists and medical professionals produce a COVID-19 vaccine at a record rate over the past few months. It was an incredible feat when one year ago, COVID-19 had just entered our vocabulary.

Doctors diagnosed the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the United States Jan. 20, 2020.

"It seems like it has been 10 years," said Tommy Shapard, a COVID-19 survivor. 

Two months after the first confirmed case in the U.S., Shapard became all too familiar with the virus. It forced him to send goodbye videos to his family from his hospital bed, thinking he was going to die from COVID-19.

"There's a sense of what's really important [in life] that, that you just can't grasp until you're at death's door," Shapard said.

Some weren't as lucky as Shapard. 

"This gets harder and harder because so many people are dying," Dr. Jennifer Fulton, Director of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at Baptist Health, said through tears. 

Fulton, who works in a COVID ICU has been in the medical field for 15 years. She said the past year has been the hardest by far.

"This has been the most humbling, exhausting, emotionally tragic period of my career," she said. 

”I have never held so many hands as people pass," Fulton said. "I've never felt so helpless as we watch this disease just take one life after another. COVID has been liking to flying a plane while trying to build it."

She said one year into this pandemic that has taken more than 400,000 lives, while we may be tired, the virus isn't.

“It does not care about what political party you are part of, what your religious beliefs are, what color of your skin is... continue to try to socially distance and wear your masks," she urged.

Michael Smith, an ICU nurse at UF Health said he has a similar message for the public.

"My biggest message for the public is, me as an African-American, I can tell you, trust in the science," he said. "These people from Moderna to Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson, they have been working very hard for the country and the world to develop a vaccine. They can get this virus cornered and finally wiped out. That's the goal, and I would say wear your mask," Smith said.

Smith also said he sees a light at the end of the tunnel.

"I don't think that it'll ever be 100 percent eradicated, but if we can hopefully get enough people vaccinated, and then, you know, just slow the spread of COVID, then I think that we have a good chance of finally getting it contained, and hopefully, under your control," Smith said.

Both Fulton and Shapard agreed and said if we follow health precautions, and work together, they’re optimistic that we can stop the spread.

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