In Los Angeles County, the hospitals are all full. ICU capacity dropped to zero percent in late December. Still, most of us are in denial, assuming full doesn't really mean that they are out of beds, much less rationing care.
Most of us are wrong.
A friend returned home from his studies to take care of his father, who had COVID-19.
For two weeks, he did the best he could. He called the doctors, who told him that if there was any way he could take care of his dad at home, he should, but if his dad has trouble breathing, that was an emergency.
The emergency happened this week. His oxygen levels plummeted. They raced to the local hospital. His son could not be with him. Instead, he sat in a car for four hours until he saw his father waiting for him, shivering from the cold.
If they were sending him home, surely, he would have a canister of oxygen. He carried nothing.
What happened is happening everywhere: The hospital set up a tent outside the emergency room for triage. The father, age 72, was put on a cot. No one did anything. No one came for him. He was lying on the cot for four hours. It wasn't a warm day. One of the nurses who was literally running past tossed him an extra blanket.
Then they sent him home. His oxygen level was a little higher than it had been.
Under normal circumstances, they would be doing triage inside. Under normal circumstances, he likely would have been admitted, or at least sent home with supplemental oxygen in case his levels went down again.
These are not normal circumstances. It is not the hospitals' fault. If you're looking for someone to blame, look at the people who don't wear masks, at the self-promoting "minister" who plans to hold maskless religious services or singalongs in some of LA's hardest-hit neighborhoods. On skid row, people planned to place a barricade in the hopes of stopping him.
I walked home from the local hospital after a blood draw on which my doctor insisted. In a half-hour walk, I was in the street constantly, walking around maskless strollers and homeless people who have taken over sidewalks.
I did not smile when I went into the street. I did not say a word. Hidden behind my mask, I walked around them.
But it made me angry. Here is my friend, terrified that they have sent his father home to die. What should he do when his father has short breathing again? Go to a different hospital? In many parts of the county, there are one or two hospitals in the area, and neither of them have room. Ambulances are circling hospitals, looking for a place for a very sick COVID patient. If you have an automobile accident and are not dying, it's possible no ambulance will come. The governor has ordered more body bags; an effort to recall him is already underway. I voted for him last time and hope that I won't ever have to do that again. Because I'm mad.
How can you not be angry at the politicians - Republican and Democratic - who have not delivered on their promises or taken the steps necessary to protect people in their states? At the people who think that because they are young and healthy, it's OK to be out and about, spreading infections they don't know they have to people who are not young and healthy? At the homeless people who may get the vaccine before people over 75 with cancer? It's one thing if they are in a shelter. But if they're sitting on the beach doing drugs and stealing bikes, there is simply no reason they should be vaccinated. It's not even raging among the homeless, because they live outside.
COVID politics can get pretty ugly. I have yet to hear anyone but government officials say that prisoners should get their vaccines ahead of law-abiding essential workers living in crowded apartments, often a one-bedroom with three generations stacked on top of one another. Those are the people who keep us going. They deserve vaccines ahead of homeless people and prisoners. So do older people with underlying conditions.
I would say happy new year, but it all feels wrong. Happy? Have a healthy and safe new year.
Susan Estrich is a columnist for Creators Syndicate.