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Guest Reviews | Dr. Elizabeth Hudson: Are we really in a safer place with the COVID pandemic, or is it a mirage? – Pasadena Now

Dr. Elizabeth Hudson

There is no doubt that compared to previous COVID-19 surges we have experienced, the rates of hospitalizations and deaths in California during the current and worrisome rise in infections remain lower and more stable than in the past. . It gives us hope that we are in a safer place during this pandemic.

The question is, are we really safe, or is it a mirage?

The challenge for us today is whether we experience the calm before the storm, or whether a combination of high levels of immunity from vaccinations and natural infections will blunt the latest bump in COVID-19 cases caused by the sub-variants of Omicron.

Los Angeles County’s coronavirus-positive hospitalizations are rising, prompting health officials to encourage residents to mask up again to increase protection against COVID-19 and new subvariants.

There is no doubt that the increase in viral transmission is mainly due to fewer people masking themselves and the introduction of even more contagious, albeit less lethal, Omicron subvariants. Studies show that the BA.2 sub-variant of Omicron is much more virulent than the first version of Omicron that dominated last winter, BA.1. According to reports, the new sub-variant, BA.2, is now estimated to be around 85% of coronavirus specimens.

If that’s not enough to cause your concern, we’re also hearing about new Omicron sub-variants appearing. These are thought to be even more transmissible than BA.2, leading health officials to wonder if another big surge is imminent? Additionally, due to the increased number of home COVID-19 tests, health officials suspect the infection rate could be higher than reported.

There are reasons why California has fared much better than other states, which have seen new cases of COVID-19 soar in recent months much to the chagrin of health officials. In California, we had an advantage: our warmer weather throughout the year meant that more activities could take place outdoors, reducing the risk of infection. We’re also hearing reports that the San Francisco Bay Area has higher infection rates, and that could be one of the reasons Southern California’s infection rate remains comparatively lower.

We are also in a very different place in terms of treatments for COVID-19 with oral treatments now readily available. This means we can treat people earlier and help them avoid getting so sick they need to be hospitalized.

With all the changing factors, and even with our seemingly lower hospital rates, it is too early to declare victory against COVID-19. As noted earlier, the true number of cases is difficult to gauge, given the shift to home COVID-19 testing. More cases may go unreported as they fall off the radar of the local public health department.

Also, while the news is good for now, we know that California is a few weeks behind East Coast movements in COVID-19 cases for all previous surges, which are unfortunately again at the rise. That’s why it’s likely we’ll know in the coming weeks whether California will indeed be able to avert a new wave that may require the reinstatement of security measures that are unpopular to many but may be necessary to ensure public safety.

The power to stay well is in our hands. We can each help ensure that Southern California continues on its path to prevent another devastating wave from occurring and disrupting our daily lives, social interactions and overwhelming our healthcare systems again, like this happened before.

The most effective way to do this is for everyone who is eligible to be vaccinated and boosted. The fact is, unfortunately, that nearly one-third of eligible Californians are not fully immunized despite the proven protection these vaccines offer.

Misinformation and political discord continue to be the main culprits. We need to work harder to educate the public about the safety and benefits of vaccines based on solid science, not unproven and misleading theories.

And each of us has a role to play in encouraging friends and family to stay safe by getting vaccinated. We can also help slow the spread by wearing masks indoors and in crowded outdoor environments.

The alternative is undesirable and would have a high price in the form of lost lives and a forever pandemic.

Dr. Elizabeth Hudson is the regional infectious disease chief at Kaiser Permanente Southern California, based in Pasadena.

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