CALIFORNIA — “This is not a permanent state” Gov. Gavin Newsom told Californians on March 19, 2020, the day he issued the first stay-at-home order of the coronavirus pandemic.
Two years later, Californians are in a different state of mind, but it’s hard to define what “normal” will look like as the state enters year three.
Last year, the Golden State was beginning to emerge from what felt like suspended animation with the advent of vaccines.
Since the World Health Organization first declared a global pandemic on March 11, 2020, more than 6 million people have died around the world. In California, 86,927 people have died.
Nearly 1 million people in the U.S. lost their jobs, and students endured three years of school disruptions and extended mask mandates.
But the situation is improving. On Wednesday, the Golden State reported a 1.4 percent positivity rate — down from 8.8 percent on Feb. 8.
Hospitalizations of people with COVID-19 have plummeted 80 percent in the last two months across the U.S. since a mid-January pandemic peak, dropping to the lowest levels since July 2021, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We’ve learned many, many good things, but it’s been [at] a terrible cost,” Shriner said.
“And the 6 million people around the world dead from COVID is a huge underestimate,” she added. “It’s probably in the tens of tens of millions, if not even higher. There’s just so many deaths that we don’t know about that have happened.”
‘A Layer Of New Protection’
When the first surge of COVID-19 patients hit hospitals on the West Coast, the tsunami of disease was more than unnerving.
“We knew that COVID was coming,” Shriner said.
She recalled the day Huntington Hospital received its first coronavirus patient at the end of March 2020. He was an otherwise healthy 36-year-old who had gone to Disney World.
“I remember the care that the nurses provided him and the singular courageous moment one of our pulmonologists … quietly put on her protective gear, went in and talked to him very tenderly, and then intubated him. And he died the next day,” she said. “And that was that was the sort of moment of recognition that this is going to be a really serious, challenging event — health care workers all over the world just stepped up.”
The most recent surge was driven by the highly transmissible but less deadly omicron variant. But health care workers have become familiar with the virus.
“It’s kind of like we’re veterans now, we know what to do,” Shriner said. “But it has been very taxing to toggle back and forth between surges and post-surge mop-up.”
The Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Moderna vaccines quickly ushered in a new era of the pandemic last year, but officials didn’t anticipate mass hesitation from wide swaths of people.
“Individuals now are either vaccinated or unvaccinated, recovered or not — in other words, they passed away,” Shriner said.