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Ask Dr. Halverson: Increasing coronavirus cases — surge, second wave or increased testing?

web 5 29 Halverson photo
As our valley, state and country are reopening from the coronavirus lockdown, much attention is appropriately being focused on the increasing number of reported coronavirus cases. Several states are reporting record numbers of new cases. In Ventura County, 25% of the total cases (more than 400 of the reported 1,800) have been in the past 14 days. Is this the surge or second wave that health officials have been warning us about? Here are facts for you to remember to better understand the numbers in the coming months.
TESTING IS CONSTANTLY INCREASING
In the first few weeks of the lockdown, Ventura County was testing 200 to 300 people per day. Tests were only available through Public Health or Quest Diagnostics and, due to limited testing supplies, physicians and health officials were advising you to stay home and not get tested if you were mildly ill. This has changed dramatically. We now have four drive-up testing centers in the county and supplies are plentiful. We want you to get tested. Currently, more than 1,000 people are getting tested daily throughout the county, including more than 1,700 on June 12. Increased testing is vital to achieving better control of the spread of the coronavirus by identifying cases, quarantining positive individuals and contact tracing any people they may have exposed to the virus. Of all people tested, 4% to 5%  are positive — percentages that have not changed since March. If testing has increased by a factor of five, then the number or reported cased daily should also. 

 

THE RATE OF REPORTED DEATHS IS NOT INCREASING
As of June 24, 44 deaths have been reported in Ventura County since the pandemic began. Seven have been reported in the past 14 days. The rate of reported deaths has stayed at three to four per week since early April.
HOSPITALIZATIONS HAVE NOT INCREASED SIGNIFICANTLY
This is the number you should watch. With more testing, we are appropriately diagnosing and quarantining more people who are mildly ill or asymptomatic. If the number of infections were to rise significantly, then the number of seriously ill people who require hospitalization should also. These numbers are part of the report issued Monday through Friday by Ventura County Public Health at venturacountyrecovers.org. There have been an average of 30 to 40 patients in the hospital with COVID-19  over the past several weeks. Fifteen have been in  the ICU with fewer requiring ventilators. There was a brief increase when more than 15 Ventura Townhouse residents were hospitalized, as required for quarantine when a recent outbreak occurred there more than two weeks ago. Fortunately, many were mildly ill and would not have been hospitalized if quarantine could have occurred elsewhere. This triggered our county being temporarily to be put on the California watch list due to an increase in hospitalization rate for COVID-19. With more than 180 available ICU beds in the county hospitals and 208 available ventilators, we are well below our county capacity to care for all serious cases.
THE OJAI VALLEY CONTINUES WITH FEW CASES
Twenty-one cases (15 in Ojai and sjx in Oak View) have been reported to have ever occurred as of June 24. There have been two more cases in Ojai since June 12 and three more cases in Oak View since June 12. Two Ojai Valley residents were hospitalized and have recovered. There have been no reported deaths. I fully expect the number of cases to increase as testing does but, as explained, that does not mean we are having a surge or second wave unless hospitalized cases go up significantly.
CONCLUSION
In Ventura County and the Ojai Valley, we have successful flattened the curve with relatively small numbers of deaths. SOCIAL DISTANCING, HAND WASHING, SANITATION MEASURES, AND THE WEARING OF MASKS THAT HAS BEEN REQUIRED FOR WEEKS IN OJAI, IS WORKING. 

 

Unfortunately, and disappointingly, the curve continues to stay flat, but not go down. Our first wave is continuing. This is due in large part to reopening (necessary for economic recovery and psychological well-being of many of us) and the misconception that we can become more lax with following the recommended health guidelines. I have great hope  that we can avoid a surge or second wave in the fall if WE COMMIT EVERY DAY TO FOLLOW THE PROVEN GUIDELINES that keep the coronavirus away from ourselves, our families, our neighbors and our valley residents until successful and safe vaccines can be developed in the next six to 12 months.
STAY HOPEFUL, STAY COMMITTED, STAY SAFE and STAY WELL.

 

— Dr. Jim Halverson is a longtime Ojai physician, who is writing a weekly column for the Ojai Valley News on COVID-19.

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