The often-shared parable of the frog that is boiled over time because it fails to recognize that the temperature of the water it is in is slowly rising could well be an appropriate metaphor for COVID-19’s arc in California.
Some data to put things into perspective: Daily COVID-19 cases have dropped to about 25,000, a welcome improvement from the more than 53,000 peak in mid-December. But, unfortunately, these numbers – especially over the course of weeks and months – remain untenable and unsustainable as 12% of those infected will likely end up in California’s hospitals. And the problem is the surge may plateau but not decrease rapidly enough to provide relief to hospitals still overwhelmed by people in need of acute care.
When considering that the summer surge topped out at a little more than 12,000 daily cases, it’s easy to see why the frog might be an important cautionary tale at this juncture.
Also, the daily caseload is an aggregate state number. While statewide average daily COVID-19 cases have dropped 21% from the third week of December, for Los Angeles County (which alone has accounted for a third of all cases) the decline has been far more gradual – only 12%.
That’s the concern at this moment – that all of us are becoming desensitized by a sea of numbers; some form of data fatigue, perhaps.
But we cannot become calloused to the pain families are feeling from deaths of loved ones. We cannot ignore the exhaustion of nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, and others who have been in this fight for more than a year. We cannot just accept the current daily levels of COVID-19 cases as a “new normal.”
We cannot do these things because those we rely on to heal cannot continue at this pace indefinitely. California’s dwindling health care workforce is tired, sick, pulled in many directions as a result of this pandemic, and we must protect these pillars of our state’s health care system as we begin to rebuild.
For now, vigilance is critical – we must keep our eyes on the potential impact of new COVID-19 variants, the speed and efficiency of vaccine delivery, and the potential for all Californians to become prematurely comfortable with a drop in cases that could lead to yet another spike.
We will continue to stay close with federal, state, and county officials through this phase of the crisis so that hospitals have the information and policies needed to adapt quickly as conditions on the ground shift.