WINDSOR, ONT. -- March 20, 2021, will mark the one-year anniversary of the first positive case of COVID-19 in Windsor-Essex.

Since then, the virus has claimed 401 lives in this region alone, and infected more than 13,000 people.

Of those cases, 12,854 are now considered resolved by the health unit.

A positive statistic, in what has been a year of negativity.

Sandy Zgomba, a registered nurse at Windsor Regional Hospital has seen a lot of change in that time.

She was reassigned from the telemetry unit to the Assessment Centre in March 2020, and is now the interim Manager of the Ouellette site.

Zgomba says she’s “seen it all” from both sides of the equation and is now more aware of how resilient the staff are.

“We as a staff, and administration, have had to be very fluid in what we do,” she says. “The ever-changing guidelines. The Ministry dropping things on us on a Friday and having to go live on a Saturday or a Monday causes a lot of confusion not just for the patients, but the staff as well.”

Zgomba says it’s been “quite interesting” to watch the response, from everyone working inside the hospital.

Dominique Gravel, a PSW herself, watched as healthcare workers went from hero-worship to blame, by December.

So, she did something about it by designing, printing and selling two-sided “a hero lives here” lawn signs.

“As they’re leaving for work, they’re remembering why they’re going and putting in all these long hours, taking the risks they’re taking for the elderly, and when they come home it’s a reminder as they pull into the driveway that they’re appreciated and loved before they go back to their own families,” says Gravel.

One thing she knows for sure; “we rise to the challenge at this hospital.”

frontline workers

Local business owners, who were facing mass layoffs or possible closure quickly pivoted to work on the pandemic response.

Wendy Stark with the Windsor-Essex Economic Development Corporation says the list of businesses that started out in this industry in March 2020 is growing, with most saying they are in this line of work for good.

For instance, Papp Plastics in LaSalle.

“They are, actually just received Health Canada approval to manufacture test swabs,” Stark says. “They are now able to manufacture a million swabs per week.”

Other businesses, like restaurants and small retailers are seeing a groundswell of support to eat and shop local.

“It’s something we’re hopeful is going to carry over, in the future,” says Adriano Ciotoli, with Windsor Eats

Ciotoli says it would be impossible to pinpoint just how many new customers local businesses are seeing because of the pandemic, because of all the shutdowns.

He says restauranteurs are hopeful some of the rules that changed during the pandemic, like patio extensions and easing of alcohol rules will be here for good.

“In kits that they can put together a cocktail, it doesn’t have to be a sealed beer in a can or a bottle the same as wine, they can create the cocktail, put it in a sealed bottle and send it off, which wasn’t allowed before,” Citoli says.

The pandemic may be a year old now, but there is no set date for when it will be declared over.

Healthcare workers, on the frontlines of the pandemic, like Zgomba and Gravel, both say they just need some patience and a little understanding.

“We alone can’t do it. But as a group and a team, we’ve been able to survive this,” says Zgomba. “We’re still going to be here for our community to get us to where we need to be in order to be the Windsor we used to be.”