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UW grad shares COVID experience in New York, 1 year after nation’s first confirmed case

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MADISON (WKOW) -- It was just one year ago when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the first case of COVID-19 in the United States.

A man in Washington state had just returned from visiting Wuhan, China -- where the virus had already been detected. He started experiencing symptoms and checked into a clinic. He was hospitalized, but released after two weeks.

Madison Oak doesn't remember too much about the day that news broke -- January 21, 2020.

"No one at the children's hospital said anything," she said. "Like, it wasn't a topic of conversation, really."

Oak was finishing up her time at UW-Madison, working to become a physical therapist. She was completing a rotation at the time in New Orleans, Louisiana -- a week before moving to New York.

"Pretty much like six weeks into living here, I got on lockdown," she said.

New York was the epicenter of the virus, shut down well before anywhere else.

"We saw the rest of the country just like not locking down," she said. "Still indoor dining. Still hanging out with people... Everyone here is just racking their brain, how is it possible? How do you not see what is happening?"

Not long after that, now-Dr. Madison Oak got sick, herself.

"You know when you wake up, and you're sick, and you know you're sick? And your whole body hurts?" she said.

Oak had severe body aches, fatigue, trouble breathing and she was unable to taste her tea.

"I was putting more lemon juice, more lemon juice," she said. "And I was like, 'Oh. I can't taste anything.'"

While these are classic COVID symptoms now, no one knew what the symptoms were at the time. So she had to discover it all on her own.

On March 14, 2020, there was also no easy access to COVID testing. Weeks later, Oak tested positive for COVID antibodies.

Oak got COVID, and then there was a pandemic.

More than 24 million Americans have now gone through what she did, too. Four-hundred thousand didn't survive.

Life changed -- no large gatherings, six feet apart, masks on faces.

But now, things are changing again.

"I got Moderna," Oak said, referring to one of the two COVID vaccines that received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration. "I had no side effects, except for my arm hurt -- my shoulder hurt really bad."

COVID vaccines, now going into arms, are giving her hope.

"We never ended up actually going back (to Madison) for graduation," Oak said. "I would love a graduation ceremony. I would love to see all my Wisconsin friends."

She says the key is to keep up -- wearing masks and following all of the precautions. Only then will we get through this.

"I'm just excited for health care workers, especially those who work in in-patient, to finally get a break," Oak said.

Andrew Merica

Reporter/Producer, 27 News

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