WEST ISLIP, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — CBS2 is looking back on where we were one year ago, and how far we’ve come since the first COVID-19 cases hit the Tri-State Area.

CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff looks at how the pandemic tested our health care workers and how much progress they’ve made in treating the deadly virus.

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In the beginning, there was helplessness.

“I feel like we are practicing medicine in the 1800s because we don’t know enough about the virus,” one health care worker said.

New York hospitals quickly morphed into what those on the front lines dubbed “COVID City.”

“This is what we hear every 10 minutes, medical rapid response, the patients that are crashing on the floors,” said another worker on the front line.

Health care workers were overwhelmed by the mysterious coronavirus that didn’t follow rules. Treatments were little more than an educated guess.

“No one here has ever seen anything like this,” another worker said

“We see these patients deteriorate in front of our eyes,” said another.

COVID VACCINE

Much has changed in a year, thanks to lessons learned from survivors like Ricky Ramirez, 53, a hospital worker who was admitted to St. Charles Hospital at the beginning of the surge.

“I was very weak. I couldn’t even move my hands. My only thing I could move was my head,” Ramirez said.

Ramirez was on a ventilator for nearly a month. He was transferred to St. Francis Hospital where he was administered the drug remdesivir, which turned his fate around.

“Many times I woke up and said, ‘God, please just let me live one more day. I want to see my kids growing,'” said Ramirez.

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His 3-month battle helped inform future COVID care. Catholic Health System doctors said, through clinical trials, treatments improved dramatically from the grim first wave.

“We saw patient after patient arriving at our doorstep and we felt so helpless as they were arriving in despair, in disability, and even in death,” said Dr. Uzma Syed from Good Samaritan Hospital.

CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

One year later, earlier intervention saves lives. Antiviral therapy like remdesivir is being given to some patients at the onset.

“Given at the right time, preferably earlier, and you stand a good chance of recovery,” said Dr. Alan Bulbin, director of infectious diseases at St. Francis Hospital.

Now, there’s knowledge about which preexisting conditions make outcomes worse.

“Instead of, ‘You’ll be fine, you’re young, you’re healthy,’ and then a week later you’re not fine and you’re here in the hospital, now we know that you may benefit from all these treatment options right when you’re diagnosed,” said Dr. Bulbin.

That includes antibody treatments.

“Monoclonal antibodies early that are a passive immunity. We’re giving you an antibody directed at the viral protein,” Dr. Bulbin said.

Ramirez beat COVID when so little was known about it. He and other survivors have given health care workers much to celebrate.

“We agonized for every life that we lost, but we contributed to science,” said Dr. Syed.

They’re indebted for what they learned from those they lost.

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Catholic Health hospitals have treated more than 7,000 patients for COVID since their first case on March 6, 2020.

Carolyn Gusoff