In a press conference dripping with a mix of exasperation and dry-witted sarcasm, two officials at one of the largest hospital systems in Southern California threw a bucket of cold water on media and government efforts to whip the public into a state of fear over the latest Covid-19 uptick.
Their remarks came on the same day that Los Angeles County health director Barbara Ferrer declared the county had moved into a “high” level of Covid transmission. Two consecutive weeks in that status would trigger the reimposition of an indoor mask mandate on the nearly 10 million people who still choose to live there.
The press conference featured Brad Spellberg, the chief medical officer of Los Angeles County + University of Southern California Medical Center (LAC + USC), along with epidemiologist Paul Holtom.
Spellberg kicked off the duo’s ridicule of Covid fearmongering with an exasperated description of the Covid situation: “It’s just the same. It’s not changed. It’s been the same. It’s like…two months of the same.”
He backed up his characterization with charts depicting county cases and the hospital’s own Covid admission data.
“The numbers at [LAC+USC] Covid-positive tests have continued to go up, but this isn’t because we’re seeing a ton of people with symptomatic disease being admitted…we’re seeing a lot of people with mild disease in urgent care and [emergency department] who go home and do not get admitted.
Of those who are admitted, they’re 90% of the time not admitted due to Covid. Only 10% of our Covid-positive admissions are admitted due to Covid. Virtually none of them go to the ICU, and when they do go to the ICU, it is not for pneumonia. They are not intubated.”
As for the worst kind of Covid-ICU case, Spellberg said, “We haven’t seen one of those since February. It’s been months.” He said today’s Covid patients in intensive care are more typically associated with conditions like electrolyte abnormalities or auto-immune attack of the nerves that may or may not be Covid-driven.
“It is just not the same pandemic that it was, despite all the media hype to the contrary…I mean – a lot of people have bad colds is what we’re seeing,” Spellberg concluded.
Epidemiologist Paul Holtom sarcastically chided Spellberg: “I would really have to work to burst that soothiness bubble…maybe we can turn to the media, which is trying to burst that bubble by talking about a new variant that was was described in India…[and is] ‘sweeping’ the country and now the United States.”
“Certainly, if the experience of our hospital is reflective of across the county, which I believe it is, we’re just seeing nobody with severe Covid disease. As of this morning, we have no one in the hospital who had pulmonary disease due to Covid. Nobody in the hospital….NOBODY. Nobody who had Covid-19 disease as we would see it in the past. So I guess it is hard to get a little more excited.”
The epidemiologist noted that Los Angeles County could soon reimpose an indoor mask mandate “based on numbers.” However, he said, “certainly, there’s no reason from a hospitalization-due-to-covid-push perspective to be worried at his point.”
Holtom transitioned away from the Covid portion of the press conference by administering a final dose of humor: “I’m so tired about not being worried about Covid for week after week, the very least we could do is bring up another potential pandemic and get worried about it, because at least that way we have something to be worried about!”