Coronavirus: 1 year later, San Bernardino County ER doctor reflects on pandemic

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (KABC) -- It was one year ago when Dr. Danny Fernandez began to treat his first COVID positive patients.

"I remember it was frightening because we didn't know much about it," said Fernandez.

The emergency room doctor at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center said despite his emergency training the virus was unpredictable as a disease.

"With COVID, it seems like any symptom was possible. So, it was really difficult to identify," he said.

As the world went into lockdown, public health agencies were also scrambling to deal with the unknown erecting field hospitals and outdoor tents to deal with a potential surge in patients. San Bernardino County Public Health Director Corwin Porter stepped into his role in May just as the Summer surge was about to take off. He explained while the county was prepared with a pandemic plan COVID-19 had them adapting.

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"There was no time to get ready -- you just jumped in and you did it. I think at some point in the future I will think about that but it was really all hands on deck it was immediate response," said Porter.

San Bernardino County responded with food drives, went to work to acquire PPE for its frontline healthcare workers and setup testing centers and contact tracing in hopes of slowing the virus. But a year later COVID-19 would claim 3,692 of its residents including some members of Fernandez's family.

"I do have family members that did have to get hospitalized and... did not have the best outcome," recalled Fernandez.

In an effort to protect his family, Fernandez moved out of his home and into an apartment. Fernandez said he spent his days working long hours in the ER while outside the hospital COVID-19 had become a polarizing issue.

"I knew what I was seeing in the hospital, I knew how many sick patients I had, I knew I was putting in long hours. I knew I was going into these COVID positive rooms trying to help and intubate or put in airways and some people would say it is made up or it does not exist," he said.

By December the worst of the second surge was flooding Arrowhead Regional Medical Center with patients, but its also when the Pfizer vaccine became available to frontline healthcare workers like Fernandez who was the first to receive it.

"I was really excited I always have close contacts with positive patients. So for me it was a weapon against the virus," he said.

Three months later, the county has vaccinated more than 200,000 of its residents and workers; a feat it was able to do with its various partners.

"I feel like things are getting better. I definitely seen less patients in the ED that were COVID positive but we still have them. They are still coming in but there is definitely a stark difference at this point," said Fernandez.

But he says no one should let their guard down just yet.

"I know you hear on the news about different strains, et cetera or the potential for another surge and we'll wait to see if that happens. We are ready if it does happen, but I definitely feel its getting better at this time compared to previously."
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