One Year of COVID: Dr. Corona and Dr. Thomas share lessons from pandemic as Upstate prepares for next threat

Impact: Life in a Pandemic

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — One year ago on March 16, 2020, the first and second cases of coronavirus were confirmed in Onondaga County.

Before that day, Upstate Medical University’s chief of infectious disease, Dr. Stephen Thomas, was already becoming a household name.

“It was like the storm is gonna be here in ten days, start filling sandbags. We were moving at 100 mph,” recalls Dr. Thomas in an interview with NewsChannel 9.

Dr. Thomas’ opinion weighed heavily on the cancellation of the Syracuse St. Patrick’s Parade, Upstate’s decision to institute a campus-wide mask mandate before New York State, and has been a steady voice of scientific reason throughout the pandemic.

Thomas says the lesson he learned this year is simple: The doomsday pandemics he’s studied throughout his career are possible.

More than one year after COVID-19 was discovered in China, it spread to 130 million people worldwide. Nearly 25% of the cases have been in the United States, where 500 million people died.

In seven counties of Central New York, there have been more than 75,000 confirmed cases and nearly 1,500 deaths.

He says, “As a globe we have to take a little bit of responsibility for allowing this to happen.”

When it did, Upstate Hospital responded, sending nurses to hard-hit areas, creating the most accurate saliva test to detect coronavirus, hosting a trial for the Pfizer vaccine, and caring for ailing patients.

Upstate Hospital CEO Dr. Robert Corona tells NewsChannel 9, “I think there’s so much built-in intelligence and resilience that we’re a much better institution for having gone through it. We fought a battle together. The people here have really bonded, like people bond in war.”

The hospital used the slogan “Upstate Strong,” but is transitioning to “Upstate Smart,” to show what’s been learned over the last year that can help contribute to preventing the next pandemic.

Dr. Corona says, “We’re already preparing for – we’re not just saying pandemic – the next health threat. There may be another health threat, a dirty bomb, a threat, we’re preparing for it right now.”

The research hospital is piloting drones to one-day deliver medicine or medical tests, working to make confusing data like case curves more graphically understandable, and being a hospital that leaves behind less waste.

The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t over. Not everyone has a vaccine and new virus variants could force another surge if people get over-confident and reduce restrictions based on the number of vaccines distributed.

Dr. Thomas says, “Even Fall 2021 could have a semblance of normal that is very close to what we had in 2019.”

Life could come back this year, but he warns COVID-19 will always be part of it.

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