Hospitalizations related to COVID-19 continue to rise in San Diego County, but this summer’s wave is proving to be different of other waves. Most patients arrive with less severe illnesses and fewer people die, according to officials at local hospital systems.
“It’s much less serious,” said Brett McClain, chief operating officer of Sharp HealthCare.
Right now, about 460 San Diego County residents are hospitalized with COVID-19, a fourfold increase since May. But the situation is much better than last summer and last winter.
Sharp has about 160 patients with COVID-19, the most of any hospital system in the county. However, McClain said, far fewer are admitted to the intensive care unit or put on ventilators.
“The overall picture is a less acute variant, thank God,” McClain said. “That said, we are seeing a similar increase of a higher acute nature with those who are older and more frail.”
It’s unclear whether officials are seeing less severe disease because the BA.5 variant is milder or because of the protective “wall” built up from previous vaccinations or infections, or a mix of both.
“We certainly have fewer patients with this increase needing ventilation than ever before, and that’s great because our antiviral [treatments] they’re working,” said UC San Diego Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Chris Longhurst.
Longhurst said he also saw some patients who had milder disease, and according to data from UC San Diego, the recent infections are not as deadly as they used to be.
“What’s circulating now probably has a lower death rate than the flu,” Longhurst said.
Recently, a USC Los Angeles County Medical Center The official said only 10% of patients admitted with COVID-19 were hospitalized due to an illness caused by the virus. Longhurst said that was not the case in San Diego.
“Up to two-thirds of patients admitted to the hospital are admitted for COVID, as opposed to COVID,” he said. “The LA County data seems a little off to us.”
Many San Diego residents hospitalized with COVID have underlying medical conditions that the virus worsens, so it can be difficult to identify what is driving severe cases.
Scripps Health officials say their situation is similar to other hospital systems. Scripps Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ghazala Sharieff said about 10 percent of hospitalizations were “incident” case findings, meaning people test positive while admitted for something else.
COVID-19 aside, Sharp and Scripps officials are seeing unusually high volumes of emergency room and urgent care visits unrelated to COVID. And the virus is hitting hospital staff hard. Sharp alone had 700 employees with COVID-19 on Thursday.
“We have to replace those staff, well, with others so we can take care of patients,” McClain said.
Sharieff wonders if the staff will again reach the point where surgeries and other procedures will have to be delayed.
“Are we going to reach that crossroads at some point where we have to delay surgeries again?” Shariff said. “None of us want to do that, do we? We’re already seeing delayed care across the country; I’d hate to get to that point. So I think it’s time for us to take a break. We all know what we have to do. :just be very careful.”
Sharieff is also concerned about San Diegans experiencing lingering effects from the infections, commonly referred to as “long covid.”
“I’ve heard so many people in the last few weeks say it’s like the flu,” Sharieff said. “The flu doesn’t necessarily give you these long-term complications like COVID is.”
Officials continue to recommend that people use the state’s CA Notify telephone system It was pioneered in San Diego and can let people know if they’ve come into close contact with someone who has the virus.