MADERA, Calif. (KFSN) -- Nearly 3,500 flags line the lawn at Madera Community Hospital.
Each one represents a COVID-19 patient who was treated there in the past year, but they also serve as a reminder of the day the deadly virus arrived in the Central Valley.
On March 5th, 2020, the state health department contacted Madera County public health officials about a couple returning from the Grand Princess Cruise which had an outbreak of the virus.
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While isolating, one of the patients developed symptoms.
"Everyone was more scared, we made plans to have them come through a different entrance. Now it's all second nature," recalls Dr. Terrance McGovern.
Dr. McGovern says, luckily, they had the necessary equipment.
Early on in the pandemic, however, county health departments across the state faced supply chain and staffing shortages.
"Public health was not funded in the way that would provide for the ready-made infrastructure to do a response like COVID," said Dr. McGovern.
Public Health director Sara Bosse says while it wasn't easy, they rose up to the challenge, even teaming up with the Madera County sheriff's office for help with contact tracing.
She says the pandemic highlighted some challenges they're still working to overcome, but the rapid response to COVID-19 has given the county much-needed resources, including more public health workers and better IT systems.
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"We've built the systems and the policies to meet another virus in the future and respond more quickly than we did this time," she said.
The fight against this virus isn't over, but as vaccine allocations are expected to increase, Madera medical officials say they're seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
1 year after Valley's first confirmed COVID case, officials say end to pandemic in sight