By Barbara McMurray, Special to the Independent
In January, when he first heard about the coronavirus, Dr. Eric Alcouloumre was not particularly worried. Having worked at Hoag Hospital since 1986 and currently serving as its associate director of emergency services, he thought, “We got this. We controlled SARS. We controlled Ebola. No problem.”
The 27-year Laguna Beach resident and his wife, attorney Annee Della Donna, traveled to Peru to climb Machu Picchu.
“While I was gone, our first coronavirus patient was admitted to Hoag Irvine.”
As a result, a fellow Hoag doctor had to quarantine for two weeks because he saw the patient without wearing eye protection. It was a wake-up call.
Next came alarming reports from Italy. Hoag prepared for a wave of COVID-19 cases “just in case.” Then, New York.
“Nothing hit closer to home than seeing the video from inside the ER at the university hospital in Brooklyn,” Alcouloumre said. “COVID-19 patients were lined up on gurneys in hallways, flimsy curtains separating them, doctors and nurses not having time to change PPE between patients and probably becoming vectors themselves. We were seeing impoverished conditions in our best hospitals, and we weren’t seeing the political leadership necessary to support frontline workers, as if they were an expendable resource.
“When I decided to go into emergency medicine, that is not what I signed up for,” he said.
Although the number of cases at Hoag is increasing, he said, most patients recover because the hospital is functioning well within its capacity and with ample resources.
In its early response, Orange County did well, he thought, then blew it.
Starting with protests against Gov. Gavin Newsom’s mandate, Alcouloumre said, “politicization of the pandemic response took over.”
He laments that confusion was further sown by popular videos like the slick, fallacy-filled “Plandemic” and two Bakersfield doctors who shared false information before being rebuked by professional medical groups and kicked off social media.
He deplores the lack of leadership at many levels, pointing to the Orange County Board of Supervisors for failing to support its own public health officer, leading to her resignation. He blames OC Sheriff Don Barnes’s refusal to enforce mask-wearing as a measure needed to slow the spread. Alcouloumre said the Orange County Board of Education “put out a politically biased plan to reopen schools” that contradicts the recommendations of authorities in public health, education, and medicine.
“Our national political leadership has undermined its experts, leaving us uncertain of what we should be doing,” Alcouloumre said. “This has wiped out all the gains we made with our initial efforts.”
He noted that since “almost everyone I saw on news coverage of the Black Lives Matter protests was wearing a mask,” that did not significantly contribute to the increase. However, mixed messages from leaders, including failing to dissuade youth from socializing, “has resulted in young people becoming the biggest factor in the current resurgence of the virus.”
“I was proud of many Laguna merchants and restaurants in their efforts to begin reopening safely,” he said, “but now they are suffering because of a minority that refuses to do the right thing.” The result is an alarming rise in cases and the threat of another statewide shutdown.
Alcouloumre devotes time daily to sharing his pandemic-related ER experiences on his public Facebook page, emphasizing that, as with this article, he is speaking for himself, not as a Hoag Hospital representative.
His takeaway advice: “Be a decent human being, show concern for your community, and make the sacrifices we all need to make to get through this together. It’s so simple—wash your hands, social distance, and wear the mask.”