In a petition posted to change.org last Friday, a group of medical professionals urged California government and public health officials to relax COVID-19 restrictions and start treating the disease as “endemic” in its post-Omicron phase, shifting away from the “pandemic” status we have lived with since early 2020.
Endemic means the disease never goes away, as with the flu. Pandemic indicates it’s in a wide and active state of spread, often across the world.
The petition was directed to Governor Gavin Newsom, California Department of Public Health Director Tomás J. Aragón, Secretary of the California Health & Human Services Agency Mark Ghaly, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, all California County Public Health Officers, and all California Public School Superintendents and School Boards.
Says the posting, “We [California residents] have been living under the most restrictive COVID-19 policies in the country. For those of us in the Bay Area, we continue to navigate the most restrictive policies in the state. These restrictions persist despite California’s high vaccination rate and low COVID-19 hospitalization rates. California’s COVID policies have failed to evolve with the advent of highly protective and widely accessible vaccines.”
The letter goes on to site the collateral damage caused by the restrictions, which themselves go on in open-ended fashion: “Present policies have driven thousands of people from this state and from our public schools, and we will continue to lose many great minds, great businesses, great families and great individuals if current policy is not righted.”
A main point of emphasis in the petition is California’s children and teenagers, namely those attending public schools. This in mind, its writers implore its recipients to acknowledge the availability of vaccines while resisting further mandates, namely booster mandates; acknowledge that the vaccinated have received no reward in terms of lessening restrictions; acknowledge COVID’s low risk to children, particularly in light of the risks posed to them by COVID restrictions in terms of mental health and limited (masked) interaction; lift mask mandates; roll back testing; shift from counting cases to counting hospitalizations and deaths; acknowledge the relative mildness of the Omicron variant; and acknowledge the state and the Bay Area’s low hospitalization rates.
Recent days have shown Santa Clara County’s winter COVID surge peaking, with concern remaining that the case numbers still remain high. Meanwhile, the county boasts high vaccination rates, with 83.1% of residents of all ages fully vaxxed. Since the winter surge began, the county COVID death toll has gone up from 1,940, where it sat static for months, to 1,976. Right now, about 1 in 1,000 unvaccinated county residents are catching COVID. For the vaccinated, that number is less than ⅕ as high.
To date, Milpitas has logged 8,278 COVID cases, amid a population of 77,457 people. Presuming an absence of repeat cases, which are rare, that means around 1 in 9 Milpitas residents have caught COVID since the virus began to circulate. Santa Clara County does not provide per-city death data.
The conversation around embracing the label of “endemic” rather than “pandemic” is ongoing, with many still favoring the pandemic classification due to the lingering possibility of worse variants than Omicron, the difficulty of predicting when case counts will drop around the world, and the deficiency of vaccination rates in varied countries.
The change.org petition was signed by Jeanne Noble, MD, MA (Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine, Director of COVID-19 Response for the UCSF Parnassus Emergency Department); Jennifer Nguyen, MD (Pediatrician, UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland, Alta Bates Summit Medical Center); Vinay Prasad, MD, MPH (Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, UCSF, Hematologist-Oncologist, San Francisco General Hospital); Jarrett Moyer, MD (Surgery and Bioengineering, UCSF); and Laura Chinnavaso, RN, BSN (Alameda County Disaster Relief, COVID-19 Response).
At press time, it is nearing 10,000 signatures.