“This is not just a public health crisis; it is a crisis that will touch every sector, so every sector and every individual must be involved in the fight.”– World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, March 11, 2020
Two years ago tomorrow, the World Health Organization declared that COVID-19 could be characterized as a pandemic, pointing to the more than 118,000 cases of the coronavirus in over 110 countries and territories around the world and the sustained risk of further global spread.
Those numbers seem minuscule now, with nearly 450 million cases, more than 6 million deaths, and confirmed presence in nearly every nation in the world. California saw its share as well: more than 9 million cases and nearly 90,000 deaths.
Hospitals are and have been leading efforts to save the lives of those afflicted with COVID-19, as you fought through global supply shortages of PPE, oxygen, ventilators, staffing, and so much more. Now, as the omicron variant surge appears to taper, there is cautious optimism that the pandemic may at last be shifting to an endemic phase, where the virus will continue to circulate, but at low rates or seasonally. Or maybe not.
Stepping back after living with this for two years, three takeaways to date:
- What we’ve learned: Living through the greatest public health emergency in a century has taught us much about the need to effectively share public health information, the value of health systems in rapidly shifting resources to hot spots, the need to quickly flex care spaces and staffing regulations to ensure continued care delivery, pervasive health inequities, vaccine hesitancy and the value of trusted information, the vulnerable points within the entire health care system, and more. These learnings must be drawn upon as we build a stronger health care delivery system for the future.
- The hardships we’ve endured: COVID-19 has badly damaged a health care system that was already under tremendous pressure. From a crippling financial hit (billions in lost revenue mean that 45% of California’s hospitals are operating in the red and another 15% are barely above water) to workers who are more than burned out — they are exhausted, depressed, and suffering moral injury (health care worker ranks have dropped 20% nationally) — it will take years to return to a place of stability and predictability, where Californians can count on the right care being delivered at the right time, in the right setting.
- The hope we’ve instilled: Hospitals remain — and always will be — the places people turn to in their darkest times. This was certainly true during the pandemic, when California hospitals treated an average of more than 5,600 COVID-19 patients each day. It’s safe to say that tens of thousands of families are whole today thanks to hospitals. Hospitals help make miracles happen, and this was never clearer than over the past two years.
Looking to the future as we find ourselves in an oasis of diminished case numbers and manageable hospitalization rates, the words of World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus from two years ago ring true as he shared his views on the weight of the term “pandemic:”
“There’s been so much attention on one word. Let me give you some other words that matter much more, and that are much more actionable.
And most of all, people.
We’re in this together, to do the right things with calm and protect the citizens of the world. It’s doable.”
“It’s doable” might well be the motto for California’s hospitals as well, as we together learn from the crisis, fight through the coming hardships, and always remain committed to providing hope to all who need it.