Why this matters
Emerging COVID-19 variants can bring with them new symptoms, potentially posing challenges for local health systems.
Doctors and health officials are seeing a rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations across San Diego County, and the latest set of subvariants is dominating the spread.
Experts say thanks to widespread vaccinations, COVID-19 is becoming less severe. But while the latest surge in cases isn’t resulting in as many deaths or hospitalizations as seen early on in the pandemic, the public should still be wary of one complication: long COVID.
The county reported a seven-day average of 147 people hospitalized for COVID-19 last week — almost double what was reported in July. It has the second-highest number of hospitalizations among all California counties behind Los Angeles, according to state data.
Deaths have remained low, with 31 people in San Diego confirmed to have died from the virus since July.
Subvariants, prefixed with “XBB,” are mutations from the 2021 Omicron variant, and have been spreading in the county and throughout the U.S. since early this year. Wastewater sampling data shows that another variant, EG.5, is beginning to spread locally, too.
Older populations remain among the most vulnerable to hospitalization and death, especially those over age 60, so doctors are advising young people to test themselves if they feel any symptoms and to stay home if they’re sick.
Dr. Davey Smith, chief of infectious diseases and global public health at the UC San Diego School of Medicine, advised that the public think “one step beyond ourselves” that would help prevent death and hospitalizations.
“It’s the young, healthy person who’s gonna do just fine with it,” Smith said. “It’s when they spread it to grandma or to the older coworker, or to even a patient in the hospital. That’s the dangerous part.”
Dr. Christian Ramers, infectious disease specialist and chief of population health at the Family Health Centers of San Diego, said the effects of long COVID should still be on younger people’s radar. The public should “get back to basics” to prevent the spread of the virus, such as wearing masks in enclosed spaces and staying home if you feel sick, he said.
Ramers also recommended getting vaccinated with a new booster shot.
“The more times that you get a COVID infection, your risk of getting long COVID is additive,” he said. “So each time that you get it, it’s sort of an additional risk of getting long COVID.”
Long COVID is a wide range of new, returning or ongoing health problems that people experience after being infected, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At least four weeks after infection is the start of when long COVID can first be identified, but health experts still don’t fully understand its effects.
Research has at least shown some trends. Women, for example, experience symptoms of long COVID slightly more than men, Ramers said, potentially due to them being diagnosed more often with autoimmune diseases. People who do not have severe symptoms when they contract the virus may also be susceptible to long COVID, he said.
Dr. Robert T. Schooley, an infectious disease specialist and UCSD professor of medicine, recommended that people at high risk take Paxlovid, an oral pill, once someone finds out they have COVID.
Taking antiviral medication, Schooley said, can not only reduce the chances of hospitalization and experiencing long COVID. Typically, he said it improves symptoms within 48 hours.
“It takes someone who is at high risk and reduces their risk for getting to the hospital to about the same risk that a 17-year-old person has,” Schooley said, adding that the drug is something that people should keep in mind.
New booster shots are also being formulated to protect against the most dominant subvariants, with the rollout of these updated vaccines expected this fall, according to the CDC.
Type of Content
News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.