I am the father of a 4-year-old. Just like everyone else, I have lived through the various stages of COVID: fear, uncertainty, and then COVID fatigue. I wonder when we will be able to go back to “normal” and not have to wear masks everywhere. I long for the day when I don’t have to fear a new seasonal variant that threatens my aging parents and my child, who is still too young to get vaccinated. But I’m also a doctor at a safety net hospital that has been dealing with COVID since it first entered our lives. I know the reality of COVID because I have seen it up close.

I have watched people gasp for air like a fish on dry land, their chests heaving and dropping, but never getting enough oxygen. I have seen my colleagues break down after watching yet another patient die or get irreparable damage to their lungs or other organs from a disease that is largely preventable with a simple shot. I’ve watched the anger and distress in the faces of sons and daughters who wondered why their parents would not just get the vaccine.

My experience is not unique. Speak to any medical professional, and they will tell you the same thing. We are all sick of this. But as much as the disease, we are sick of the constant barrage of misinformation that our patients are exposed to, which is just as deadly as this disease. We are tired of people living in a reality that simply does not exist until they get sick, at which point they are forced to live in the world that the rest of us inhabit– a world where vaccines are available and are extremely effective, and where masks and rapid tests can prevent outbreaks.

We are still dealing with a dangerous, highly contagious disease. The latest numbers show more than 600 people are hospitalized with COVID in LA County and more than 27,000 deaths so far. As of December 5, less than 20% of LA County children 5-11 have received vaccinations, leaving them vulnerable to illness. I might add that some of those who have had COVID have developed long COVID symptoms which we still do not understand well.

There have been recent posts online and in local blogs that try to cast doubt on the efficacy of PCR tests. PCR tests are still the gold standard in COVID testing, and– contrary to what you have read on your second cousin’s aunt’s Facebook feed– these tests do not have any trouble distinguishing between the influenza virus and COVID. In a recent article in Kaiser Health News, Kelly Wroblewski, director of infectious disease programs at the Association of Public Health Laboratories stated, “It is not remotely accurate that the CDC test doesn’t differentiate between flu and SARS-CoV-2. It doesn’t detect influenza. It only detects SARS-CoV-2. If flu and covid are both circulating, you would be able to detect only SARS-CoV-2 and not flu.”

I would add that contrary to some of the conspiratorial claims you may have heard, PCR tests do not harvest DNA. That claim has no more basis in reality than the idea that the moon landing was faked or that Elvis is alive and working as a fry cook in the back of a Waffle House in Chattanooga. The PCR test has not been “discontinued” by the FDA. In July of this year, a Lab Alert issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s Center for Surveillance, Epidemiology, and Laboratory Systems stated that the CDC would withdraw its request for emergency use authorization (EUA) for its COVID-19 PCR diagnostic test after December 2021. The EUA was not “revoked” — it was voluntarily withdrawn because it was no longer needed as more comprehensive tests were available since the EUA was originally issued.

The SMMUSD Board made the correct decision to extend the contract for PCR testing throughout the district. We are in a much better spot than we were last winter, largely because of vaccinations. But with the rise of the Omicron variant and lack of clarity in these early stages over vaccine penetration and death rate, it is entirely reasonable to keep testing and masking for at least the next few months at public institutions where we must keep access open to all children. The safety of our children, and the faculty of their schools, must be protected to the best of our abilities if we are ever going to get out of this cycle of COVID infections.

Sion Roy is the Director, Inpatient Cardiac CT at Harbor UCLA. he is also a Past President, Los Angeles County Medical Association, Trustee, Santa Monica College and Trustee, California Medical Association