© 2024 WSHU
NPR News & Classical Music
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Ahead Of 1 Year Mark, Remembering 1st U.S. Confirmed Case Of COVID-19


Tomorrow marks one year since the first person was hospitalized in the United States with a CDC-confirmed case of COVID-19. This morning we recall that first patient and the nurse who cared for him, just north of Seattle. Here's Anna Boiko-Weyrauch of KUOW.

ANNA BOIKO-WEYRAUCH, BYLINE: Around 8:30 p.m., January 20, 2020, Robin Addison just got home from work.

ROBIN ADDISON: So I thought, well, you know, I'm just going to have a bath and take a glass of wine into the bath and read my book and enjoy my evening.

BOIKO-WEYRAUCH: She poured herself that glass, probably red wine.

ADDISON: I was standing with one foot in the bathtub, and the phone rings.

BOIKO-WEYRAUCH: It was her co-worker at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett, Wash.

ADDISON: Needless to say, I took that one foot right back out of the bathtub, put the wine that I hadn't gotten a chance to drink down and went back to work.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: In health watch, the first case of China's new and deadly coronavirus, has been reported here in the U.S. According to the CDC...

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: ...In the U.S. He contracted the virus while in Wuhan, even though he didn't go to the animal and seafood market where it originated.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: So that patient is a man in his 30s. He is in the hospital here behind me.

BOIKO-WEYRAUCH: Inside that hospital, Addison was working hard. She helps lead a team on infection control created after the Ebola outbreak in Africa. Her patient stayed in an isolation room. At the time, Addison told KUOW about him.


ADDISON: You know, he gets up in the morning and has his breakfast and has a wash and takes a nap because he is still recovering, and he needs his rest.

BOIKO-WEYRAUCH: Two weeks after he was admitted, the patient - who was never publicly identified - went home.

ADDISON: Honestly, I thought - when we got this first patient, I thought, wow, this is incredible, and this is it.

BOIKO-WEYRAUCH: So Addison got working on some kind of team thank-you party.

ADDISON: You know, we were going to have a breakfast for the team or a cocktail hour or something.

BOIKO-WEYRAUCH: Meanwhile, the Providence health care system Addison works for was ramping up. Amy Compton-Phillips is an executive overseeing clinical care. She says because of Ebola preparations, they had an advantage.

AMY COMPTON-PHILLIPS: When we started hearing about the novel germ in Wuhan, we pulled out, dusted off and started getting ready for that just-in-case again. And that included, OK, what happens if it comes here?

BOIKO-WEYRAUCH: She says with the first patient, Providence started taking action - from updating the electronic medical records system to screening patients to stocking up.

COMPTON-PHILLIPS: If this is going to be a thing, we also need to make sure we have the stuff to protect ourselves. So we actually very quickly said, let's get some PPE, some personal protective equipment, in for our staff. So we actually started very quickly ordering more.

BOIKO-WEYRAUCH: And it's a good thing they did because the following month, the first COVID-19 death in the U.S. was reported, also near Seattle. Again, nurse Robin Addison.

ADDISON: It just seemed like all hell broke loose that weekend. And we had a lot of patients came in, and then March happened.

BOIKO-WEYRAUCH: Across the state, close to 1,500 people were hospitalized for COVID that month.

ADDISON: I think March lasted about six years.

BOIKO-WEYRAUCH: Cases soared here and across the country. Addison credits having that first patient with helping keep Washington's death rate comparatively low.

ADDISON: People in the area kind of thought, oh, gosh, this might be a big deal, sooner than everybody else did.

BOIKO-WEYRAUCH: Now Addison is excited for the vaccines. Last week, she got her second dose. And now she and her team are finally getting around to that postponed party to thank the workers who cared for that first patient. It's over Zoom, and bring your own cocktail.

For NPR News, I'm Anna Boiko-Weyrauch in Seattle.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUILTY GHOSTS' "WOES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.