LYNCHBURG, Va. – One year after COVID-19 hit our area, Centra Health leaders recalled Friday how the pandemic has impacted their care.

“I was ready for quite the storm coming in,” said Dr. Elizabeth Cook.

But COVID-19 was a storm Centra couldn’t forecast, a health care hurricane forcing them to change course.

A panel of frontline workers said looking back on a full year of the pandemic, they had to assess how they’d deal with the volume.

“It definitely, I feel like, made us all take a step back and really evaluate how we approach disaster,” said Tabatha Sprouse, managing director for acute care nursing.

That approach included mobilizing new teams, preparing equipment, even converting Lynchburg General Hospital’s pulmonary floor into another ICU unit.

Heather Mayberry, a clinical nurse specialist, admits that last March, she wondered how she’d protect herself while caring for others.

“Initially, from a frontline standpoint, there was caregiver fear that we weren’t going to have PPE, that we were going to run out, that we weren’t going to have what we needed to be able to protect ourselves to care for this patient population,” said Mayberry.

She added luckily that fear never became reality, as Centra secured enough PPE.

But officials said initial roadblocks included a slow testing process and treating patients who were symptomatic, yet unsure if they actually had COVID.

Centra reports they finished summer 2020 with 45 positive cases, though another wave brought more patients and a record-high of 133 positive cases in January.

While cases and COVID-related deaths are decreasing, Dr. Cook said the biggest challenge is making sure people maintain precautions as vaccines rollout.

“Everybody goes into it like it’s going to be kind of a sprint to the finish, when this is really a marathon, and this is a new disease process that’s going to be with us indefinitely,” said Dr. Cook.