A year ago, Dr. Nick Mark worried he might not survive the pandemic. He's a critical-care doctor in Seattle who performs risky procedures, like intubations, on some of the sickest COVID-19 patients. He and his colleagues updated their wills and made sure their life insurance premiums were paid automatically.
(Listeners to KNKX's Transmission podcast heard from Mark in Episode 10.)
But work is different now. Mark is vaccinated. And while COVID-19 patients still arrive in his intensive care units, or ICUs, there are just a few of them. Going into work has gotten easier.
“This is not back to normal by any stretch, but it's sort of a new normal," Mark said. "Working in the ICU with some number of COVID patients has just sort of become the reality of working in an ICU. Unlike a year ago, it's not an ICU which is full of COVID patients."
Mark said he's surprised at how quickly things have improved.
"I didn't expect things to turn around the way they have," he said. "I think that's where my optimism comes from, is that reality has actually been better than what I expected."
Outside of Mark's ICUs, the United States is full of signs that we're entering a new phase of the pandemic.
More than 70 percent of Seattle residents older than 12 are fully vaccinated, and on many days, the number of new COVID-19 diagnoses are in the single digits citywide. Across Washington state, about 60 percent of people over 16 are fully vaccinated. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has announced that the state will lift many pandemic-related restrictions on businesses and activities by June 30.
But many people are coming out of the crisis changed. Some have radically different lives.
Michelle Bennett's mother, Carolann Gann, was the 95th person in King County to die of COVID-19.
"It's just like still kind of not real sometimes," Bennett said more than a year after her mother's death. "It feels like it's the door’s just not closed yet." (Bennett first appeared in Episode 7 of Transmission.)
The KNKX newsroom launched Transmission in the early days of the pandemic. Over the course of 34 episodes, the podcast chronicled physical, mental, financial and social upheaval in Washington state.
In this, the final episode, reporters check in with people listeners heard from earlier in the series to find out what happened to them and how the past year has changed them.
"I learned how to survive," said Steve Weaver, who lost his bartending job early in the pandemic and ended up living in his car. Weaver appeared in Episode 19.
"I've never really happened to just survive, just absolutely, positively scrape by," he said recently in a follow-up interview. "I mean, scraping coins out of my car's cup holder for food and things like that. Those are things that I never had to deal with. You know, having to work and cash out daily with DoorDash just to just buy insulin."
Reporters also check in with Antonia Zamorano, who appeared in Episode 15 after her husband died of COVID-19, and Christina Jumper, who appeared in Episode 31 and spent the pandemic battling depression and bulimia, among others.