It was one year ago on Feb. 14, 2020, Valentine's Day, that San Diego County declared a local health emergency to combat the coronavirus.
At that time, there were two confirmed cases of COVID-19 in San Diego County and several suspected cases. Since that day, more than a quarter of a million people in San Diego County have tested positive for COVID-19 and 3,000 people have died.
Supervisor Nathan Fletcher declared the local public health emergency on Feb. 14, 2020, to prepare the county for the fight against COVID-19 and to ensure local emergency funding for resources for first responders, hospitals, and medical centers. It would allow the county to obtain anticipated medical supplies, including hospital beds.
Fletcher said, “Let me be clear: this action does not signify an increase in the risk to the residence of San Diego County to coronavirus.”
At the time, leaders aimed to calm the public's fears after two people tested positive for the coronavirus in the county. Those individuals were cared for at UC San Diego Health as several suspected cases were pending, primarily involving citizens who arrived in San Diego from Wuhan, China.
“There were 13 (people) from San Diego who were on flights next to people who were subsequently diagnosed in the United States,” said Dr. Eric McDonald, Medical Director of Epidemiology & Immunization Services at San Diego County.
A year later, Dr. Edward Cachay, professor of infectious disease and global public health at UC San Diego, told NBC 7 one of the things doctors quickly learned was how fast COVID-19 could spread.
“One single individual can infect at least five to six others,” said Dr. Cachay.
By mid-March, schools across the county would halt in-classroom learning, non-essential businesses, and organizations would shutter during California’s first stay-at-home order.
Reopening and closing with restrictions on and off for months became a pattern. One year later, Valerie Arroyo feels much hasn't changed.
“Everyone’s not working, everyone’s hurting,” she said.
At the same time, Dr. Cachay told NBC 7 there's been an intense collaboration between the government, scientists and corporations to quickly develop vaccines and better treatments for COVID-19, adding that believing in science and the truth matters because not only are there a number of variants being discovered, there’s always the potential of another deadly virus to appear.
“The fight is not against each other but against the virus,” he said.
Brian Meek said he sees it like this: “I think there’s light at the end of the tunnel, but I think it’s going to be a while before everybody is comfortable.
And on this Valentine’s Day, Cachay said it’s also a time to remember those who have lost loved ones to the coronavirus.
“More than 3,000 of our neighbors are not with us anymore and we have many empty chairs at the table today," he said.