COVID-19 in New York: 1 year later, a changed city and world

On March 1, 2020, FOX 5 NY's Dan Bowens, who was anchoring the Sunday evening newscast, said, "Now it's here." That day, New York officials had confirmed the state's first case of COVID-19. In his report in that broadcast, reporter Mac King offered up: "Dan, she's in her late 30s, we know that."

We also knew that our lives were about to change. But no one knew how drastic that change would be.

At a packed press conference the next day, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio — two local leaders who were often at odds — came together, shook hands, and warned those watching around the tri-state.

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"Get ready, here it comes," de Blasio said.

They detailed this specific case: "Her condition is mild, so she's at home," Cuomo said.

And health officials gave general advice, based on what we knew at the time.

"We want New Yorkers to go about their daily lives," then-Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot said during the briefing. "Ride the subway, take the bus, go see your neighbors."

But what we knew would, of course, change.

That was the same week public health experts — including the U.S. surgeon general in a tweet — were telling Americans to stop buying masks.

"Some call that a mistake," said Johns Hopkins microbiologist Andrew Pekosz. But he called it simply making the best decision based on the information of the time. "We really thought the disease severity is what would drive this pandemic," he said.

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"Telling the population to go get masks or telling the population to go in and shelter would have been met with tremendous resistance," Pekosz said, "because we just didn't have the data to support those measures at that point in time."

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Cuomo also said in that March 2nd press conference, "There is no mystery to how contagious this [virus] is or how it transfers."

At the time, officials were focusing on the risk of transmission from surfaces. Turned out, it may have been more complicated than anyone at the time could fully grasp.

"We've since learned a lot about the fact that this virus is primarily spread through the air," Pekosz said. "Very few examples of large-scale transmission that's happening through touching surfaces or contaminated surfaces."

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One year ago, 90,000 people around the world had been infected with the virus. That number is now 114 million. About 3,000 had died. The current death toll is 2.5 million.

But Pekosz reminds us of one very shiny silver lining: Scientists produced, studied, and manufactured not just one but three vaccines for the U.S. and did so in record time.

"That is a phenomenal occurrence that I never in 100 years would have thought was possible as I was sitting here in February of last year," Pekosz said.