After a resurgence occurring at a speed that shocked medical experts, the coronavirus has begun to recede just as quickly.
For the past three weeks, cases have steadily decreased along with hospitalizations attributed to COVID-19, and experts believe the surge caused by the omicron variant to be on the downswing.
Still, the number of people still getting sick each day remains relatively high, nearly matching the peak of the third surge, and officials now believe the virus will continue to be a factor in daily life for the foreseeable future.
“It looks as though transmission is going to taper off a lot like it did in the third surge, and continue to remain present in the community, but just not at these unmanageable surge levels,” Kern County Public Health Services Director Brynn Carrigan said in a phone interview with The Californian. “We need to figure out how we can live safely with this disease here, but also remain ready to respond, if we see these surges.”
As of Friday, the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 in Kern County averaged around 36.8 per 100,000 residents. That’s a sharp decrease from the fourth surge’s peak on Jan. 25, which saw a daily case rate of 178.3 per 100,000 residents.
However, it remains comparable to the peak of the third surge, when the case rate was around 43 per 100,000 residents.
Hospitalizations, too, have quickly fallen to manageable levels. On Thursday, the state reported 151 hospitalized in Kern County with COVID-19, a steep decline from 331. Still, the figure remains well above the lull hospitals reached between the third and fourth surges, when around 100 people were hospitalized.
A state statistical model projects COVID-19 will continue to decline over the next several weeks, but never quite go away.
“I remain cautious,” said Dr. Glenn Goldis, the chief medical officer at Kern Medical. “I realize that we may be just another few months away from the next variant that comes along, and I’m not so naive to think that couldn’t happen. So I’d like to remain vigilant, and caution folks that we may have a window of opportunity here to fully vaccinate and boost our communities to fend off any future variant or wave.”
This week, the state transitioned to treating the virus as “endemic” rather than as a pandemic. The shift in approach is an acknowledgement that COVID-19 is here to stay. The new plan focuses on stockpiling equipment such as masks and bolstering the health profession to quickly address any future surges.
“I would describe it, really, as a plan for our community to learn to live with this virus, and really approach it like it’s not going anywhere, but we still need to be able to move on with our lives,” Carrigan said. “It’s really us figuring out as a public health department, how we react, and what are the important pieces of this disease going forward.”
For people with compromised immune systems, the prospect that the virus will be around for a while may not come as welcome news. But on Thursday, Goldis reminded the public Kern Medical continues to offer Evusheld, a medication designed to give the immunocompromised additional protection against COVID-19.
Patients who qualify can speak to their doctors about requesting the monoclonal antibody treatment.
For those who may be worried about future waves, Goldis urged optimism.
“I just like to take an optimistic but cautious view of the future,” he said. “I prefer to continue to focus on the preventive message, rather than fret about how serious the next wave is going to be.”