Today the FDA approved Pfizer’s antiviral pill for COVID-19 treatment, which should keep most people out of the hospital when taken within five days of infection.
Meanwhile, Governor Gavin Newsom today announced that health care workers must get a booster shot by February 1. Cases are surging, as two of the three monoclonal antibody treatments don’t seem to be working well against the Omicron variant. And hospitals are overwhelmed in areas with a lot of unvaccinated people, including in San Bernardino.
“This would be the fifth surge of COVID cases we've experienced since the pandemic began back in 2020,” says Dr. Timothy Jenkins, Area Medical Director and Chief of Staff for Kaiser Permanente in San Bernardino County. “In the last few weeks, we are now seeing many more emergency department visits and hospitalizations with patients infected with COVID.”
Unlike last year, Jenkins says the region still has plenty of ICU capacity.
“We are not anywhere close to the numbers we had a year ago. Just for reference, we had almost 500 patients with COVID infection in our two hospitals: Kaiser Permanente Fontana and Ontario Medical Centers a year ago. And over 100 of those were in the ICU back then,” he explains. “Right now, we're running around 80 patients in our two hospitals. And in terms of the ICU numbers, around 20.”
He says the situation is different this winter due to vaccinations. But he acknowledges that vax rates are lower in San Bernardino County compared to LA County.
“We do our best to really inform them of the benefits of the vaccine and the risks of COVID. And yet, we still have quite a few people that just refuse to take the vaccine.”
Jenkins explains that some skeptics are afraid of side effects. “I discussed what I personally have seen with patients with COVID in the hospital, what could happen, and the fact that I've had the vaccine and what my experiences have been. And I've been able to convince patients, and they've accepted the vaccine. And I've been very thankful for that.”
He notes that his staff members are tired but hopeful.
“It has been very, very challenging for our physicians and our staff, the duration and the intensity of this pandemic since it started two years ago. That being said … new treatments are coming online. More and more people are getting the vaccine. And so there is also optimism that we will get through this, and 2022 will be a better year.”