COVID-19 has become the leading cause of death in the United States, surpassing heart disease and cancer.  In December, there were more than 6.4 million new cases reported in this country, which is more than the total number of cases seen all year by any nation on earth except India and Brazil.

Even worse, we are now witnessing daily death counts of more than 3,000, exceeding the single-day losses from the most agonizing moments in our nation’s history, including 9/11, D-Day, and Pearl Harbor.

Orange County has reported more than 190,000 cases.  During the month of December, there were 76,200 new cases, 1,523 additional hospitalizations, and another 298 of our Orange County neighbors lost their lives to the virus.  We had more new cases reported during December than were reported in the months of July, August, September, October, and November combined.

As a practicing physician, I have seen firsthand how hard health care professionals are working to save lives, and protect and educate the public.  They are literally putting their own lives and their families at risk to help the communities they serve.  It’s not only doctors and nurses who are at risk, but also the essential support staff, including medical aides, lab techs, and janitorial workers.  It is also our school nurses, teachers, community essential workers, and so many more.  They’ve all been tirelessly doing their jobs, under these extreme conditions, for more than nine months now.

That’s why I have been so vocal about the lack of leadership demonstrated throughout this pandemic on both the federal and local levels.  So many of the reported cases — and deaths — could have been avoided if the public had received a clear and consistent message from our elected officials early on regarding the simple steps we can all take to prevent the spread of the virus.  I find it unconscionable that thousands of families have lost a loved one simply because our leaders focused on partisan politics rather than protecting the lives of their constituents.

On a local level, the Orange County Board of Supervisors wasted months — refusing to shut down our beaches, questioning the use of masks, and attacking the County’s Chief Health Officer, Dr. Nicole Quick, who was simply doing her job in implementing State recommendations.  Ultimately, Dr. Quick was harassed to the point of resignation.

Here in Irvine, the City Council has been slow to coordinate efforts with UCI — a world-class medical research institute that has been working on the frontlines of the pandemic since it began.  Fortunately, with the election of a new Mayor and City Council, the City is now in a position to show some real leadership.  In fact, Mayor Farrah Khan has announced plans to establish a COVID-19 Task Force in cooperation with UCI, Kaiser Permanente, and Hoag Hospital.

As with all health crises, there are steps that can be taken to improve matters right here in Irvine:

  1. Model Good Behavior.
    We need the Irvine City Council to model good behavior.  Members of the previous Council did not wear masks during City Council meetings — sitting in the chamber, talking, accepting papers from staff, listening to unmasked presenters, and not making sure that table-tops, podiums and microphones are sanitized between speakers.  The Council meetings are televised which has sent the message that our Council doesn’t take the virus seriously.  (There is both asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission of COVID-19.  Therefore, we must all behave as if any individual we come into contact with is an asymptomatic carrier of this highly contagious virus.)

  2. Take Action.
    The new City Council should hire a Chief Health Officer who will, in turn, build a public health workforce for our City.

  3. Collaborate to Become a Model for the County.
    Our City has the resources to be the model for a comprehensive “whole city” approach to COVID-19.  The Irvine Company partnered with medical experts at UCI Health to proactively help our local businesses and the community.  They understand the importance of taking measures to reassure our residents that it is safe to “Shop Irvine.”  Our City leaders should take that same approach, establishing public-private sector partnerships to provide the guidance and resources necessary to make sure that our community can safely reopen and stay open.

  4. Invest in our Students.
    For years, I have advocated hiring more certified school nurses in Irvine so that our City meets the American Academy of Pediatrics national recommendation of one nurse per school.  There has never been a more important time to make sure we have a certified school nurse at every Irvine school to keep our children, teachers, staff … and our community safe.

  5. Plan Now for a COVID-19 Vaccine Delivery System.
    Trust our Public Safety Department to quickly develop a plan to ensure that our residents accept and complete the two-dose COVID-19 vaccinations.  The plan must include all of the logistics of vaccine delivery, as well as an educational campaign to correct misinformation and promote vaccine acceptance.  We must maintain high levels of immunization against all preventable diseases, including COVID-19.
Phyllis Agran, M.D.