One year later, vaccine offers hope with over 30,000 Floridians dead from COVID-19

The stats are staggering: More than 1.9 million cases and nearly 31,000 deaths from COVID-19 in Florida. It was one year of misery.

Looking at a Florida coronavirus dashboard from March of 2020, with only 563 cases and 11 deaths, it's clear only a few people, like Frances Bello of Brandon, knew what we were in for.

"This disease is just insidious," she said. "It takes our loved ones."

She spoke to FOX 13 News before Zoom became routine, before testing ramped up, before the virus infiltrated our communities: people of every profession, class, race, and age.

On its first COVID-19 report, dated March 16, the state reported 142 total cases.

Within four months, the state was registering 12,000 cases a day, or 142 cases about every 20 minutes.

The people the stats represent once made our now-broken communities whole.

Ramon Morales was a janitor at Manatee High School.

"Manatee High School was just his place," said Manatee High School plant manager Sean Lutz. "He did the fields, the groundskeeping. He was just an all-around guy with the kids."

One year ago, Florida’s first cases of coronavirus were reported – both in Tampa Bay

Monday marks one year since Florida announced its first two cases of COVID-19, and both patients were from the Bay Area.

As public officials first shut things down, then reopened them, the state -- and healthcare workers -- would endure two cruel spikes.

"Going back a year, we had no idea how to treat this," said TGH emergency room Dr. Jason Wilson.

New daily cases would hit an average of 12,000 a day in July, but fall to 2,000 in October, then back up to over 15,000 in January.

Wilson says there is now less focus on intubating and more on medication, both in and out of the hospital.

Those commonly admitted now are those who have had symptoms for long stretches.

The death rate was about 2.4% in April and is at about 1.65% today.

But when you're a healthcare worker, rates are out the window. One full year of COVID-19 in Florida has put so many extra miles on nurses like Taylor Eshleman at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital.

"This past year has been one of the hardest years on record," the ICU nurse said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics reports there have been about 3.1 million cases of COVID in kids nationwide since the pandemic started. 

"I used to be able to give a hug to a crying mom or dad; I can't do that now," Eshleman said. 

"We're definitely still seeing kids with COVID. They have very similar symptoms to adults with COVID," agreed Dr. Meghan Martin. 

DeSantis: Law enforcement, firefighters and school personnel who are 50 and over can get vaccine

Florida's governor will sign an executive order allowing sworn law enforcement officers, firefighters and teachers over the age of 50 to become eligible for the vaccine.

The adults have fared far worse. In Florida alone, there have been nearly 2 million cases of COVID-19 and close to 31,000 deaths.  

"You recognize that as an emergency medicine doctor, you will be the last physical human being ever talks to in their life," Dr. Wilson said.

The hope is that the vaccine makes those instances fewer and farther between.

The first started going into arms of healthcare workers in Florida in mid-December. The state has immunized 1.7 million, while 3 million have gotten at least one dose.

Dennis Bello is one of 30,999 Floridians who won't get that chance.

"Everybody loved his hugs," said Frances Bello. "I wish he was here to hug me right now."

You can be sure you know at least one person who would say the same thing about their own loved one.