Opinion: Finding Meaning

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COVID-19 Blessings

Let’s all give a cautious sigh of relief. The Orange County Health Care Agency, the best source of local information, reports hospitalizations are now trending down. This is a key metric. The number hospitalized with COVID-19 in Orange County peaked at 140 on April 4 and was declining until Tuesday. Patients in ICU hit a vertex of 75 two days later and are also dropping. We’re not through it yet, but it appears we’ve seen the worst.

For the nation, a model produced by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington also suggests we’ve passed the apex. The early projection of 2.2 million U.S. deaths by Imperial College in London has been repeatedly slashed. The latest IHME projection is for around 69,00 COVID-19 fatalities by Aug. 4, which is about 2% of annual U.S. deaths and more like a severe flu season. Each life lost prematurely is a loss to all, but our future is looking brighter.

There are three interesting stories here. The first is the low number of cases in Orange County relative to the rest of the country. Per capita mortality in our county is just one-third of the U.S., and only 9% of the rate for the state of New York. How did this happen? It will take time to sort out all the factors, but I believe it’s safe to say Orange County is just a healthier place to live.

The second story involves Laguna Beach. Laguna is doing well but does have a four-fold higher rate of infections than the Orange County average. One reason may be our exposure to the large number of visitors. If so, the decision to close our parks and beaches made good sense. In the long run, that greater exposure should help us achieve “herd immunity” sooner. Herd immunity occurs when a critical percent, about 50-60% per the epidemiologists, have gained immunity by recovering from the infection. They then, it is believed, are no longer capable of infecting others.

The third story hasn’t been written yet—how do we get back to work? Curious about the coronavirus impact, the Beautiful Wife and I took a drive around town. First thing you notice is an abundance of parking. Our restaurants have converted to take-out and delivery for the duration of the Governor’s stay-at-home order. A few art galleries and retail stores are open but most have adopted online sales programs. Grocery stores and dry cleaner-laundries are open, but these are the most durable of all business categories. Gas stations and mechanics are busy and there’s lots of construction. It’s encouraging.

There will be silver linings to the coronavirus cloud, some driven by our experiment in social distancing. Promising but underutilized technologies like telehealth and online learning are booming. Federal health agencies have given states more flexibility to adapt to local needs. We’ve woken up to the importance of national sufficiency in medical manufacturing. There is new appreciation for the innovative genius of private enterprise. And if we have a future, deadlier pandemic, our capacity for thoughtful response will be much improved.

One other thing—we’re looking forward to being together again, especially in church. There’s meaning in that.

Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip.  He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach.”  Email:  [email protected]

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