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After nearly a year with COVID-19, there's still much we don't know

Nassau and Suffolk counties logged their first confirmed

Nassau and Suffolk counties logged their first confirmed cases of COVID-19 in March 2020. Credit: Getty Images/Yulia Shaihudinova

The official, mournful one-year anniversary of COVID-19 reaching Long Island doesn’t arrive until early March. That’s when Nassau and Suffolk counties logged their first confirmed cases.

But as with so much else about this confounding pandemic, what we knew at one point is not the same as what we know now.

For example: Stony Brook Medicine’s first test-confirmed positive COVID-19 case was March 8, 2020. However, "A month or more previous to that date some suspected COVID-19 cases were being evaluated," says a Stony Brook spokesman.

That and other scientific evidence from similar locations would suggest that by now, one year ago, there’s a good chance COVID-19 was already circulating in our communities. We didn’t have the testing capacity at the time to understand it was among us.

It was a fitting beginning for a year of not comprehending exactly what was happening, or knowing what was ahead.

We did not know we would be quarantining and living with the disease for more than a few months, let alone more than a year — or two.

We did not immediately embrace the importance of masks, and we did not expect to wear two, not just one.

We did not fully understand the way the contagion was transmitted, with belated acknowledgment of the way it spread by air as opposed to touch. We did not know how probing the World Health Organization's early investigations were about the source of the virus in China — and we still don't.

Even with our greatest achievements against the coronavirus, we were often groping our way toward knowledge. That includes our still-being-updated comprehension about vaccines' ability to fight mutant forms.

Of course, we did learn some concrete truths in this year of uncertainty. Some of us learned about the value of essential work and workers, including those who have not received their due for far too long. We saw the value of strong health care systems and competent political leadership, most apparent in absence. We were reminded of the inequities present in American life, which often go unaddressed.

We learned how resilient Long Island’s doctors and nurses and first responders can be, and how regular people are ready and eager to donate food, make handmade masks, or throw a car parade for a homebound war veteran. We learned the importance of public spaces and being together, be it six feet apart in beach chairs or heads craning toward separate screens on Zoom.

This is hard-earned knowledge that we will carry with us about this tragic year, even as it becomes history.

But even now, after living with COVID-19 for 12 months, there is still so much we don’t know, just like the beginning. We don’t know how the virus’ potentially dangerous variants will develop. We don’t know specifically how quickly the local and worldwide vaccination efforts can be carried out. We’re still learning about the long-term effects for those in recovery. We don’t know how many more people will sicken and die from this scourge.

We don’t know when it will end.

— The editorial board