January 20th marked the second anniversary of the first case of COVID-19 reported in the United States. Since that time, 69.5 million cases have been reported throughout the nation and 861,000 of our fellow Americans have died from this horrible virus.

In Orange County, there have now been 477,127 reported cases of COVID-19 and 5,953 COVID-related deaths. (Medical officials estimate that the actual number of cases is significantly higher since those with minor symptoms often do not get tested … and pass the virus on to others.)

Just this week, there have been 3,378 new cases reported here in Irvine and, tragically, our community has lost 2 more of our Irvine neighbors.

The latest Omicron surge is not yet over, but predictions indicate we will begin to see a decrease in cases over the next few weeks. That’s the good news. The bad news is that our health care system continues to be under tremendous strain. That means your care can be impacted when it comes to scheduling doctor visits, procedures, elective surgeries, and even accessing urgent care.

This week, the executive director of UCI Family Health Center, Dr. Jose Mayorga, said his staffing levels “are now stretched to the limit.”

While we are better protected because of remarkable vaccines, we are not where we should be at the two-year mark of the pandemic. Too many residents have refused to get vaccinated/boosted, which is why we continue to see new variants arise. This problem will continue to occur until a greater number of individuals take the necessary steps to protect themselves and others.

As a pediatrician, my top priority is the health of children. That’s why I continue to advocate for keeping our kids in school. But, to do so, we must create a safe environment for students, teachers, and school staff. It’s important to remember that the health of our schools directly impacts the health of our entire Irvine community.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, nearly 9.5 million American children have tested positive for COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic; 10%, or nearly 1 million of these cases have been added in the past week. For the 23rd week in a row, reported child COVID-19 cases across the country are above 100,000. Here in Irvine, cases among children have been soaring.

Last week, I attended a Zoom meeting hosted by IUSD Board Member Cyril Yu and parents in his district. At that meeting, it was clear that parents are eager to do all they can to keep their kids and the entire Irvine community healthy.

The best way to help our entire community now, and in the future, is to establish our own Public Health Department, just like 2,800 other American cities have done. By doing so, we would be enhancing and expanding local services for Irvine residents and businesses.

Irvine’s Public Health Department could have helped our businesses stay open by providing training on proper sanitation methods; distributing free COVID-19 antigen tests; providing better protective masks (N-95) free of charge; and connecting businesses with community health resources. Our Public Health Department could have also helped IUSD and TUSD hire more school nurses so that Irvine could meet the nationally recommended standard of one school nurse per school. (We currently have about half that number.)

Irvine has a long history of doing big things! It’s not too late to establish our own Public Health Department that is still needed to deal with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic … and to help us be better prepared for the next public health emergency.

The post The COVID-19 Pandemic: Two Years In first appeared on Irvine Community News and Views.