MAINE, USA — It's been exactly one year since Gov. Janet Mills announced the first presumptive positive case of COVID-19 in Maine.
Intensive Care Unit (ICU) nurses Rachel Hunter and Michelle Dunning were there on the front lines, caring for people who contracted the virus.
"The whole year has been a complete roller coaster," Dunning, an ICU nurse at Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center, said.
"To look back, it's hard to imagine it's only been a year," Maine Medical Center ICU nurse, Rachel Hunter, said.
They both said it was hard to watch people be alone.
Dunning said, "Each day you came in wondering, 'Is my patient still going to be there?' 'Did they take a turn for the worst last night?'"
"It breaks my heart even after a year, to have families not be there to say goodbye to their loved ones," Hunter said.
Hunter said she never thought her job could potentially put her and her family at risk.
"At the beginning of the year, I sat down with my mom who lives with me and my son and we talked about what it would mean where there was a time I couldn't come home and what that would be like," said Hunter.
It was the same for Dunning.
"I had protocol that I followed, you know when I got home," Dunning said. "I went months without seeing my parents, my brother, and the rest of my family members."
Both said in the weeks and months that followed, all the nurses learned to lean on each other for support.
"I'm so blessed and thankful to work with the people I do," Hunter said.
Dunning said, "We've come a long way."
As restrictions are loosening and more people are getting vaccinated against COVID-19, these nurses have some advice for the rest of us.
"Don't let your guard down," Dunning urged. "Continue to do social distancing, continue to wear your masks. It's wonderful that everyone is getting vaccinated, but we still need a large amount of people to receive the vaccine to get herd immunity."
"Remain thoughtful--remain vigilant," Hunter said. "I recognize COVID fatigue is a real thing. I feel it for sure, but to remain committed to getting each other safe."