California has made progress in protecting the healthcare system from a dramatic spike of sick patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But state public health officials are still planning for a “worst-case scenario,” quietly publishing a sobering set of detailed guidelines to answer the troubling ethical question of who lives and who dies should California face a new surge in the coronavirus outbreak, resulting in a shortage of ventilators and medical supplies.
A 38-page document by the California Department of Public Health, published last weekend, prescribes a method to prioritize patients in the event that an outbreak overwhelms hospitals, preserving intensive care beds and ventilators for people with the greatest likelihood of surviving with treatment over those with serious chronic conditions that limit their life expectancy. If necessary, younger people and workers who are “vital to the acute care response” would receive care before others.
“As your state public health officer, the gravity of what is contained within this document is felt deeply,” wrote Dr. Sonia Angell, director of the California Department of Public Health, in a letter that accompanies the guidelines. “The conversations that will be prompted by its release will be difficult.”
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