SEATTLE — On January 21, 2020, the CDC announced the first American who had tested positive for COVID-19.
It was a man in his 30s in the Seattle area, who had recently returned to the U.S. after traveling to Wuhan, China to visit family. A few days after returning, he became sick, and on January 20, he was admitted to a hospital north of Seattle. On the 21st, a test confirmed he had COVID-19.
The hospital, serendipitously, had rehearsed for a possible pathogen attack weeks earlier as part of a practice drill for a potential Ebola patient. They were ready with enclosed gurneys, PPE, and isolation techniques.
The doctor in charge of the unidentified man’s care asked the FDA for approval to treat him with remdesivir, an antiviral drug developed to treat Ebola. He was the first in the nation to receive the treatment.
“There were no secondary infections,” said Dr. George Diaz to KOMO News.
Dr. Diaz is the admitting doctor who first met and treated him at Providence Medical Center-Everett one year ago. “He really lived in a fishbowl while he was here, highly isolated environment, that was emotionally difficult for him.”
With the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in America, the CDC quickly sent a team to Washington state to help with the investigation and contact tracing.
“Patient one when he arrived our country and history changed,” Dr. Diaz said.
The day before, the CDC announced three U.S. airports would begin screening for the coronavirus because of flights between them and Wuhan, China: JFK international, San Francisco International and Los Angeles International. The move came after a handful of cases of coronavirus were reported in Thailand and Japan.
The identity of the man has remained private. He recovered and was sent home on February 3, 2020. Dr. Diaz remains in contact with him, and told local media that when they spoke a few days ago, the man was healthy and doing well.
The Seattle area had the first reported death in this country of a COVID-19 positive patient on February 28. However, the CDC reports post-mortem testing in Santa Clara County, in California’s San Francisco Bay Area, showed two deaths on February 6 and February 17 were both COVID-19 related even though neither was known to have the coronavirus at the time of their death.
From that first case in this country, to a year later, more than 406,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus and more than 24.4 million have contracted the disease. There are two vaccines with FDA emergency authorization approval and every state is working to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible.
Scientists are still investigating how the virus spread so quickly. One thing many are convinced about, is that the coronavirus that brought the world to a halt in 2020 came from a thumb-sized bat living in a Chinese cave. But exactly how it got from the bat to humans around the globe remains unknown.
This month, for the first time, a delegation of scientists from the World Health Organization were allowed into China to explore the origins of the coronavirus.