It has been two years since the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in Massachusetts.
On Feb. 1, 2020, a UMass Boston student in his 20s who had traveled to Wuhan, China, was diagnosed with the first documented case in the state.
At that time, health officials told the public to keep living life.
“Right now, we are not asking Boston residents to do anything differently,” said Rita Nieves, interim executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission back in 2020. "The risk to the general public remains low."
At the time, health experts recommended not wearing masks, saying surgical masks weren't able to create a tight enough seal and that N95s were in short supply.
That would all change dramatically.
In a little more than a month, Gov. Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency. On March 20, the first Massachusetts resident died after contracting the virus. By mid-April, cases peaked in the first surge. That wave included the largest death toll the state has seen in the pandemic. Another surge occurred from November 2020 through January 2021, just as the major vaccination effort was getting underway.
Last year, when we marked the first anniversary, vaccines were going into the arms of health care workers, those in congregate care or long-term care facilities and first responders. Everyone else waited for their first shot, with the uncertain hope that vaccines would put an end to all this. And they did — for a while.
Vaccines kept the next two surges muted — in mid-March, and then in September. But the omicron variant swept into Massachusetts at the end of fall and case counts broke records, peaking in early January 2022.
Now, COVID-19 is in retreat. The seven-day positive test rate in Massachusetts is below 7.5% for the first time in over a month. There are, on average, 4,800 new infections reported each day — about one-fifth the number of cases reported at the peak of the surge in early January of this year.
Compared to two years ago, access to certain types of masks and testing tools has expanded. Health experts now recommend wearing an N95, KN95 or KF94 mask when in public. Rapid home tests are on the market — though sometimes hard to find and expensive.
The disruption to daily life continues even while mass closures of schools and businesses no longer happen. Everyone has experienced loss and uncertainty.
"We saw the impact on businesses, we saw the fear and the sense of anxiety and isolation that was already starting, and so it's been a long, long two years," Boston Mayor Michelle Wu said Tuesday.
Over the past 24 months, almost 1.5 million Massachusetts residents have had confirmed cases of COVID-19 and many more likely contracted it. More than 21,000 people in the state have died from the virus.