On December 12, 2019, a cluster of patients in Wuhan, China began to experience strange respiratory symptoms leaving medical professionals puzzled as to what it could be. We now know they were the first patients with COVID-19.
It has now been two years to the day that COVID-19 has been part of our lives in some way. Two years of questions, uncertainty, fear and frustrations. It has also shaken the fundamental core of Michigan's healthcare systems.
Here in the U.S., health officials were keeping their eyes on this new, mysterious virus, but weren't too concerned.
"To be frank, we kind of put it off," Mercy Health Infectious Diseases Chief Dr. Andrew Jameson said.
Information was limited and the case count around the world quickly grew. Then in January of 2020, the virus had officially made its way to the U.S.
“Once we had learned that there was a confirmed case in the United States, we knew that it would be here in Michigan, and so we were just waiting on that confirmation. It was a little scary," Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Elizabeth Hertel said.
Mask shortages, supply shortages, fear and panic set in for not only everyday people but health care workers who weren't sure if they would pick up the highly transmissible virus every time they went into work.
“There was a lot going on and it was extremely frightening early on," Dr. Jameson said.
Actions were taken on the federal and state level to try to prevent the spread of a disease we knew little about. Still, hospitals quickly filled up.
"It was challenging, and it was very stressful," Hertel said. "We were seeing a really, really high mortality rate.”
Spectrum Health was doing the best it could with the influx of patients.
“We didn't know how to test for it, we didn't know how to treat it and we didn't know what was coming our way," Spectrum Health Vice President of Hospital Operations Chad Tuttle said.
For two years cases, deaths and hospitalizations in the state rose in waves and hit multiple peaks. According to Director Hertel, the turning point came in December of 2020, a year after the virus was first detected.
“We had this amazing, amazing breakthrough in medical technology with the formulation of not only one vaccine, but three vaccines," Hertel said.
Now hospitals are experiencing yet another peak, overwhelmed with mostly unvaccinated patients. Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids even received federal help to aid with staffing from the Department of Defense.
From the pandemic, hospitals have implemented practices that will most likely stick around for years to come. Hospital collaboration is also at an all-time high.
“I would say we're more collaborative than we've ever been. We talk with other health systems, other hospitals daily, we share resources, we share knowledge and information," Tuttle said.
And while health officials have learned so much over the last two years - from not knowing what COVID-19 was, to having accessible testing, to finally having a vaccine - there is still a lot to learn.
In two years COVID-19 has taken over 26,000 lives in Michigan and has resulted in over 1.5 million positive cases.