COVID-19 one year later: Tears, long nights, and finally, optimism in Florida

One year ago, it was something we'd heard about and worried about. But it took the first case for reality to set in.

"The fear of the unknown was major," recalled registered nurse Jamie Florio.

"This thing came out of nowhere. And took us all by surprise," agreed Dr. Michael Schandorf-Lartey. 

It's been one year since the first case of COVID-19 unrelated to travel or known exposures was diagnosed in Florida.  The first patient was a Manatee County man, diagnosed at Doctor's Hospital of Sarasota. 

"Our patient had been in the hospital for five or six days with acute respiratory illness with no unknown ideology," explained Dr. Schandorf-Lartey. 

A test confirmed COVID-19

"It felt like it was rapid fire, one day it was this, the next day it was something else," said Dr. Todd Haner. 

In the months to follow, hundreds of COVID-19 patients would come through their doors.  Some of them never got to go back home. 

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As months passed, new treatments like convalescent plasma and Remdisivir would bring patients and doctors relief. 

Images of patients close to death, separated from their families with only doctors and nurses to comfort them, is something few will forget. 

"There's been a lot of really trying, trying times with all of us. It’s been very sad at times," lamented registered nurse Ranchel Herc.

While the emotional toll remains, there are also victories to celebrate. 

"It's very uplifting when they leave; it’s like a party. They’ve been with us for weeks," said Herc. 

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For weeks, Governor Ron DeSantis has rejected CDC guidance and pushed ahead with the "seniors first" goal of vaccination as many Floridians as possible who are 65 and older. Now, he says new FEMA sites would use some doses to vaccinate certain teachers and law enforcement officers.

Bob Ross, a retired doctor from Venice, was hospitalized for a month with COVID. 

"I felt so bad. I’d never seen anybody as sick as I was then and I felt so bad that I thought maybe death was a reasonable option," he recalled. 

Dr. Ross credits his recovery to his family and the team. 

While he still has a ways to go, he's alive 

"They’ve all worked so long together that it’s a well-organized team that does great triple-A work, 24/7. I owe my life to them and to my family," he offered. 

As more people are vaccinated, these medical professionals are holding out hope. 

"The situation has changed a year on; we are in a much better position. Vaccination is the final push against this illness," said Dr. Schandorf-Lartey. 

And until then, "we keep doing it and tomorrow we will come back and do it all over again," he added.