You may not know Dr. Maggie Park but she is paid to worry about public health issues involving 750,000 plus San Joaquin County residents.
Up until a month ago almost all of us ignored her official assessments on a variety of viruses ranging from the common flu to West Nile Virus.
Not many are ignoring the twice daily updates on coronavirus victims her staff at the San Joaquin County Health Department issue Monday through Friday. And while many of us may take social distancing advice to heart to some degree it is doubtful we are really grasping what she is trying to warn us about.
Park’s office on Friday provided a quick glimpse into what coronavirus modeling looks like for the county. These are not exercises developed on a whim but are based on what public health care professionals do year in and year out while the rest of us go about our business and routinely give little or no attention to public health pronouncements.
A blunt assessment of what has been shared is that a lot of us are going to get sick and even more are going to contract the coronavirus in San Joaquin County between now and mid-June.
The model, if correct, shows the county peaking with 299 hospital admissions from COVID-19 on a single day on May 30. Of those 299 admissions, 90 will end up in intensive care, with 60 needing ventilators in an even bigger fight for their lives. Quibble if you must with what is essentially an educated guess, but even if the crescendo from coronavirus is half that it is still significant.
The census of the number of beds filled in hospitals throughout the county is now on the low side including Doctors Hospital of Manteca with its 73 beds. This is a good sign as it means the healthcare system we rely on has prioritized everything from elective surgeries to other medical issues with an eye on serving public health and not their bottom line. Our health care system that is mostly private sector is working. A pandemic is not something that you have built in capacity for as it is something you need to manage resources to endure.
Keep in in mind without social distancing we’d be out of this sooner but at a much steeper human price. The model for the county in a business-as-usual approach would have seen hospitalizations peak at 799 on April 30 then virtually disappear by the end of May.
That model forecasts if social distancing weren’t in place or if we ease off too soon that essentially 1 in every 950 county residents would be so ill with COVID-19 that would have to be admitted to a hospital on a single day. Prorated based on population translates into 90 Manteca city residents in a single day being so sick they would need to in a hospital.
Keep in mind that is a single day and that one just doesn’t recover from the full impact of COVID-19 in a day. Add up the numbers on five days either side of the peak day and the model calls for the potential for at least 800 people in Manteca needing to be in a hospital at the same time for their best chances of surviving COVID-19 with minimal long-term health issues and not dying.
If the county health department is correct, thanks to social distancing to date and keeping with it for the foreseeable future, only 34 Manteca residents on a prorated population basis with all things equal will face hospitalization to deal with COVID-19 when May 30 rolls around. Using five days before and five days after the peak, it puts the potential hospitalized number at any given time closer to 300.
If the reality ends up being one third of what is being projected when May 30 arrives, there is a good chance that hospitals might not have significant overflow given they serve greater areas than the communities they are located. Doctors Hospital, as an example, has least 50,000 more people it serves than in Manteca once you toss in Ripon and Lathrop. Add Kaiser Manteca to the mix and the modeling for May 30 with social distancing in a worst case scenario, if things go better the health care system will be pushed to the max but not necessarily overwhelmed.
That is what flattening the curve via social distancing has always been about. Making sure our health care system isn’t overwhelmed and in turn increase the odds of a loved one, a friend, a neighbor, a co-worker, a stranger, or yourself having the best possible outcome if you were stricken and got sick to the point you needed hospitalization.
We are being told nationally that the next two weeks are the most critical. But this is not a one-size fits all the same pandemic. Park believes the COVID-19 virus hit San Joaquin County later than other areas in Northern California based on confirmed cases.
In that case the most challenging days for San Joaquin County could be the next four weeks.
Death is in the air. It’s a truth that has always existed.
COVID-19 has simply driven home the fact there have always been viruses floating around that can make us ill, cripple us, or kill us. The real big difference is this is a new virus that we haven’t somewhat mastered.
The likelihood that COVID-19 will join a long list of other viruses from polio to the common flu we will need to deal with going forward is high. The hope — and scientific goal — is for development of vaccines and drugs to combat the coronavirus of which research for both is well underway.
Back when polio in the early 1950 were killing 2,000 American children a year and paralyzing another 16,000 with the peak for deaths at 3,145 in 1952 with 21,269 cases of permanent paralysis, parents went to great lengths to avoid their children being exposed. Call it a version of social distancing but involving younger children. If the death and paralysis rates were proportional to today’s population that would translate into 6,919 dying from polio and another 46,609 suffering lifetime paralysis of varying degrees.
The one thing we seem to forget as we soak in daily counts on confirmed cases and deaths from the coronavirus is the fact there is a large number of those stricken who will suffer some type of serious health conditions for the rest of their lives as fine result of being stricken.
This is in addition to the damage being done to families from the economic fallout from social distancing.
We all have our own theories but one thing should be clear by now: No one is going to relax social distancing until it is clear that the pandemic has peaked and is in an established decline.
So if you want this all to end as soon as possible — a substantial drop off in more people getting sick and dying, being able to stop the economic bludgeoning many are taking, and having to deal with the 2020 equivalent of cabin fever — keep the need to move about in public at the bare minimum for the next two to four weeks.
And ask yourself one question: If you have a month’s supply of toilet paper is it worth your health or that of someone you may come into contact with so you can add several weeks to your stash before you need it while forcing those in tighter financial situations to roam stores looking for a four-pack for their families simply because they never were in a position to afford having a week or two supply of toilet paper on hand?