Reflection and gratitude from Sansum medical director
January 20th marked three years since the first laboratory-confirmed case of COVID-19 was detected in the United States, followed a few short months later with the World Health Organization and CDC’s declaration of a global pandemic.
At the time, none of us could have imagined how much our lives would be upended, or for how long. We only knew that COVID-19, then known as the “novel” coronavirus, posed a serious health threat and was likely to be the greatest public health challenge we would face in our lifetime.
It was also very clear, as other local healthcare practices closed down and temporarily shuttered their doors, that our patients and our community needed us more than ever.
Much has happened over the past three years. The WHO COVID-19 dashboard reported 663,640,386 confirmed cases of COVID-19 globally, along with 6,713,093 deaths since the onset of the pandemic and the CDC reported a total of 1,099,866 deaths in the U.S. as of last week.
In California, since the beginning of the pandemic, nearly 12 million cases have been reported with a total of 101,982 deaths, which translates to 1 in 387 residents having perished due to COVID-19.
In addition to the many lives lost, many others have been forever impacted by this scourge, which has left both physical and emotional scars, not only for patients and families but also for the healthcare workers who have diligently, empathetically and selflessly cared for them.
Sansum Clinic rose to the challenge, finding new ways to work, new ways to collaborate with local healthcare partners like the Public Health Department and Cottage Hospital, and new ways to communicate with each other to ensure our community and our organizations had the most current scientific information about COVID-19 testing, treatment and prevention.
We quickly implemented new ways to provide healthcare both on an individual basis (via telehealth) and on a larger public health scale.
We were among the first in the community to begin immunizing Santa Barbara’s healthcare workers and patients once COVID-19 vaccines became available, and we were the first to offer patients safe, car-based COVID-19 testing, opening a special trailer location just for this purpose.
We ran the community’s only large COVID-19 vaccine clinics just for children at our Pediatrics Department. In addition, we were the only ambulatory care facility in southern Santa Barbara County to provide Evusheld to protect immunocompromised patients against COVID-19 infection. And our Clinic ultimately became a COVID-19 “test to treat” site within our Urgent Care Department.
We were able to do all this only because of the grit and perseverance of our dedicated clinical and administrative staff members. Nurses, medical assistants, pharmacists, registration staff, physicians, advanced practice providers, IT employees, marketing staff, facilities and administrative logistics teams worked countless hours to provide these services both during and often after regular business hours.
They cared for patients with COVID-19, but also countless others who needed safe, ongoing medical or surgical care for their acute or chronic conditions despite all of the challenges the pandemic threw our way, from staffing shortages due to illness to supply chain issues.
The good news is we have finally reached a turning point after a long window of offering these services on a wide scale. Our immunization tent will close at the end of January, but we will still provide COVID-19 vaccines and boosters at our pharmacy and doctors’ offices.
There are many reasons for optimism looking at the months ahead into the spring and summer. Most national metrics are heading downward, with COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and test positivity all down by around 20% in the past two weeks.
In California, cases have decreased by 48% and deaths have decreased by 30% in the past two weeks and in our own local community data, over the past week the number of reported cases has decreased by 14% and in our own Urgent Care data, the test positivity continues to trend down, now at 7%.
In addition to that good news, we have learned many lessons and have many more tools in the tool belt, such as:
- Bivalent boosters, which are now approved for nearly everyone 6 months and older, continue to demonstrate protection against all of the latest Omicron subvariants, including the new, more transmissible subvariant XBB.1.5 which is quickly becoming the dominant subvariant. Although this variant is more transmissible than prior variants, there is still no indication that it results in more serious illness than prior subvariants.
- A plentiful supply of COVID-19 vaccine, bivalent boosters, along with prophylactic medications like Evusheld and antiviral treatments like Paxlovid. In addition, the FDA will be discussing new and simpler strategies for vaccinating individuals against COVID-19 using a similar strategy to what is used for annual flu vaccinations, with annual vaccinations targeting the current circulating variants. More to come on that front.
- Best practices to reduce the spread of COVID-19 like masking, physical distancing and avoiding crowded indoor spaces when transmission rates are increasing.
Now past the crisis phase, we have transitioned to a world where we need to coexist with COVID-19 and flex all of the advancements that have been developed along the way, locally and globally. There are so many people across all areas of Sansum Clinic who deserve recognition for their actions over the past three years, which allowed us to provide the high-quality care that our patients deserve. Our Clinic’s role was vital, and our collective efforts and a resolute focus on patient care surely saved lives and protected our community. That is certainly something we all should be proud of, and must always strive to uphold.
Marjorie Newman is the medical director at Sansum Clinic. This article was also presented as a letter to patients, staff and community members.