Doctor looks back on diagnosing Oregon’s first COVID-19 patient

PORTLAND, Ore. (KGW) — It’s been almost three years since the first person was diagnosed with COVID-19 in Oregon. Dr. Katie Sharff with Kaiser Permanente diagnosed the man on February 28, 2020, and she said it came as a surprise at the time.

“The first patient was the engineer at my child’s school,” she said. “I was there to just deliver a greeting card and things just didn’t add up, they didn’t make sense.”

Throughout the next two years, society dealt with lockdowns, school closures, deaths and strains on the health care system. Sharff said the pandemic caused a lot of anxiety for Oregonians, including her.

“Just feeling constantly behind and trying to understand the disease and make the best choice for our patients and the community at large,” she said.

Sharff said the health care system has come a long way when it comes to treating COVID-19. Testing was not widely available in those early days, but that was one of the first things to change with the arrival of huge testing sites and then at-home tests. Once the first vaccines debuted, things started to change for good.

“The ‘All for Oregon’ mass vaccination site at the convention center, that was unprecedented, and I think we should really celebrate that amount of work and effort that provided protection to hundreds of thousands of Oregonians,” Sharff said.

She said COVID-related hospitalizations have plateaued at around 250 a day statewide. Deaths are also down, which speaks to population-level immunity and better treatments like anti-viral therapies. But when it comes to the future of COVID-19, Sharff said it’s not going away anytime soon.

“It’s going to be one of the respiratory viral illnesses we see circulating, so trying to avoid COVID at all costs is not a practical way to exist moving forward,” Sharff said.

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