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Hospital Exec Wants San Diegans To Remember What’s At Stake During Pandemic

Scripps Health president and CEO Chris Van Gorder wears a vest that says "incident commander" while standing in the Scripps corporate offices, March 12, 2020.
Tarryn Mento
Scripps Health president and CEO Chris Van Gorder wears a vest that says "incident commander" while standing in the Scripps corporate offices, March 12, 2020.

A local hospital executive said he worries the public is becoming desensitized to the rising number of San Diegans who have lost their lives to the coronavirus pandemic and many are being too relaxed or defiant toward policies to prevent its spread.

The global outbreak has sparked national debate over fatalities attributed to the virus, as well as public health measures, such as orders to wear facial coverings.

Chris Van Gorder, president and CEO of Scripps Health, said not enough attention is paid to the individual victims of the virus as the overall tally increases.


He said at Scripps, which has treated a large portion of the county’s COVID patients, four recently died in one night — an event that would've made headlines before the pandemic.

Video: Local Hospital Executive Worries Public Is Becoming Desensitized To COVID19 Deaths

“Six months ago, if four people died of a virus in the hospital in one night, that would’ve made front-page news; Now it’s just a statistic,” he said. “I’m a little afraid that people are looking at these numbers that are now so big and so profound and...they’re forgetting that they’re people.”

He also he’s greatly concerned that not enough people are covering their faces to protect others from contracting the virus, especially those who are more vulnerable to suffering complications.

“My nurses and my doctors have to call (the patients’) family members and tell them that their loved one just died from something that maybe they wouldn't have had to die from if someone wore a goddamn mask,” he said in a Zoom interview with KPBS last week.


Public health orders to minimize the impact of coronavirus have been a flashpoint in Southern California and across the country. Some local businesses ordered to close by the governor are remaining open in defiance, and an online group recently called for the county to rescind its mask requirements, KPBS media partner 10News reported.

San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond has also been critical of the reporting of local COVID-related deaths, stating in May the region only suffered a few “pure, solely coronavirus deaths” because the majority occurred among people who had underlying health conditions.

Officials elsewhere, and President Donald Trump, have questioned or doubted death data, including in Florida after a local news outlet reported the victim of a fatal motorcycle accident was labeled a COVID death.

Some public health officials, including in nearby Orange County, stepped down amid criticism. San Diego County’s public health officer Dr. Wilma Wooten has received condemnation, especially from public speakers at county board meetings, but remains on the job.

One caller reported Wooten’s home address during a June meeting. Wooten has since received a wave of online support from medical professionals.

Trump has also often been at odds with the nation’s top public health experts, but has recently shifted his tone on masks. Meanwhile in Georgia, the governor is suing the mayor of Atlanta over her facial coverings mandate.