By Dr. Ruth Carleton Lindo, MD, MPH, FAAP
As I write this commentary today, 1,754 people in Los Angeles County are hospitalized with COVID-19 and more than 400 are in the ICU. Another 219 people were admitted to the hospital the day before.
The reality is we are nowhere near the end of this epidemic. To the contrary, delayed responses and half-measures have allowed COVID-19 to spread and to mutate.
Faced with politically motivated recall elections, governmental and public health officials have downplayed data which shows that infections among both children and adults are soaring. Vaccines that were once highly effective are diminishing in efficacy over time. And the new Delta and Lambda variants are highly contagious and difficult to control.
Under the very popular mantra of “reopening,” public officials have repeatedly understated to the public the gravity of the situation and downplayed their own data. At this moment unvaccinated children are being sent off to school with nothing more than pieces of cloth on their face even though data published online by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health shows a 900% increase in cases of COVID-19 among children and schoolteachers from the beginning of June until the end of July, and pediatric hospitalizations are soaring on a national level.
This is not the first time there has been a blatant disregard for the data.
The CDC insisted for months at the beginning of the epidemic that face masks are not necessary. It eventually admitted we need to use masks to prevent infection, but then it encouraged people to wear cloth face masks which only remove 20% of viral particles, rather than inexpensive KN95 or KF94, like the rest of the world is wearing, which removes 94% to 95% of particles.
Masks are not a fashion statement. Medical masks have an electrostatic layer which trap viral particles and which homemade cloth masks simply cannot replicate.
Insisting that we wear highly ineffective masks is an example of denial of scientific reality leading to unnecessary illnesses and deaths.
A more recent example of official gaslighting has been the tendency by public officials to downplay breakthrough infections by the Delta variant among vaccinated people. In early July, Pfizer warned the government that immunization-induced immunity is rapidly waning and booster shots are needed. The public health data did not take long to confirm their assessment.
Since June 29, there has been a steady weekly increase in breakthrough infections among vaccinated people. Last week in Los Angeles County, 5,904 fully vaccinated people tested positive for coronavirus, 103 fully vaccinated people were hospitalized, and 14 fully vaccinated people died. This is in only one week.
The initial response by public health officials was to deny the need for booster shots, and public statements were made as recently as Aug.15 that we “may not need booster shots for years.” Years? From the data we should have had them months ago.
Meanwhile, millions of unused doses of vaccine were allowed to expire while we complacently waited for unvaccinated people to change their minds. Did we really expect people who believe in conspiracy theories on social media to suddenly have an awakening? These doses could have been used for booster shots for people who received their first dose early in the epidemic or who have not developed antibodies.
Allowing the precious vaccines to go in the trash can rather than using them as boosters is not just negligence, it is grossly irrational behavior.
We are in a race for survival right now, and we are losing precious time by allowing people at the top to pretend the epidemic is over in order to tell the public what they want to hear. Instead of placating denialism we need to adapt by making necessary changes to our strategies, to our vaccines, and to our way of life.
People would be well served by wearing inexpensive masks that work such as KN95 or KF94 instead of ineffective cloth masks. Effective air filtration systems need to be installed in buildings. Children should be kept safe until they can be vaccinated.
Development of new longer lasting vaccines which are more effective against variant strains should be a top priority. In the meantime, every single dose of vaccine which we have available should go into an arm, and not a single one should be wasted.
If those who are not vaccinated do not wish to save themselves, then at least we should help those who want to be saved.
Dr. Lindo currently works as a pediatrician with the immigrant community here in Los Angeles.
Post vaccination cases
Education sector cases