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Mayo leader reflects on surprises, mistakes and lessons learned from two years of COVID-19 in Minnesota

Dr. Bill Morice has been part of the fight against COVID-19 from the beginning.

ROCHESTER, Minn. — March 6 will mark two years since the first case of COVID-19 was diagnosed in Minnesota. 

In the time since, more than 12,000 Minnesotans diagnosed with COVID have died. In addition to the lives lost, all Minnesotans have lost out on various milestones, events and memories.

But amid the loss, we've also learned a lot.

KARE 11 reporter Kent Erdahl caught up with a health care leader who has been part of the fight against COVID from the very beginning. 

On March 4, 2020, two days before COVID officially landed in Minnesota, Dr. Bill Morice, president of Mayo Clinic labs, landed in Washington.

Dr. Bill Morice: "I was actually in the West Wing of the White House meeting with Vice President Pence and the COVID Task Force as the announcement was being made about the public health emergency and all of these things." 

Kent Erdahl: "What surprised you most at the time?" 

Dr. Morice: "I don't know if any of us really had a true sensitivity of the magnitude of what we were dealing with. It was a generational event."

It didn't take long for that magnitude to sink in, and Dr. Morice says it was a generational response from both his Mayo Clinic Labs team, and every other corner of health care in the weeks and months that followed, that rank as his second biggest surprise.

Dr. Morice: "The power of collaboration. When I look at all of the different efforts, both in clinical testing across the state — the Governor's moonshot and working with the University of Minnesota — just how much we were able to get done when everyone was pulling in the same direction was really quite remarkable."

Erdahl: "Nobody likes to admit when they are wrong, but what's one thing you were just wrong about?" 

Dr. Morice: (Laugh) "How much time do we have? One was — before delta and omicron — that we really felt that, probably six months early, that we were in a phase that we'd be able to manage this. That was one thing I was definitely wrong about. And then also, our ability to kind of implement the solutions on both the national and global scale. There's many vaccine doses that are actually expiring right now, just with the difficulties. Many of us, myself included, thought that we would really be able to roll out the vaccines, the preventative measures, in a more seamless way than we've been able to."

Erdahl: "How do you feel right now in terms of the pandemic? We're at this point, at two years, where we've seen these numbers dropping dramatically and a lot of the restrictions being lifted. Are you hopeful? Or do you feel like you've seen this before?"

Dr. Morice: "I would say at this point I am cautiously optimistic. I think the odds are that we'll be in a good place here in the spring and summer, but I say that with much more caution than maybe I would have a year ago. All of us want to feel comfortable doing the things we do in daily life, but in health care, we have now been burned by multiple surges when we thought we might be through this. How much do we need to invest to be ready if there is another turn in the plot with another rise in cases? There's a lot to worry about and the unwinding will be almost as much, if not more, work than actually the gearing up for the pandemic." 

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