Doctor weighs in on where San Diego stands now two years into pandemic
It has officially been two years since the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus pandemic, and things have changed in that time in San Diego.
"I have a lot of mixed emotions about what has transpired," said Dr. William Tseng, Kaiser Permanente's assistant medical director for San Diego.
Tseng coordinated Kaiser's local response to the pandemic. He remembers trying to help infected patients before there were vaccines and treatments available.
"All we had at that time was putting people on a ventilator and giving them some supportive care IV," he said.
San Diego has come a long way in the past two years — from the first cases and deaths to developing vaccines that have reduced hospitalizations and death.
Right now, 2.9 million San Diegans, about 93% of the eligible population, have gotten at least one vaccine dose. Booster uptake has been lower, with 55% of the eligible population opting for a third shot.
"In terms of the environment, the community, if you’re vaccinated and boosted you’re doing pretty good," Tseng said. "I mean — I feel pretty good about it, and I would have my father go out into the community now that he’s boosted."
San Diego County is still seeing about 500 cases per day, but COVID-related hospitalizations have dramatically dropped. There were more than 1,200 in January and just over 250 as of Friday, according to state figures.
"We’ve done a good job," Tseng said. "But — again — there are still segments of the population that may not be getting the right information or may not be getting the full information."
State mask mandates in schools end next week. Studies have shown that masks do reduce transmission, and Tseng is worried about younger students who have not had a chance to be vaccinated yet. He pointed to a CDC study from 2021 that found that an infected teacher started an outbreak.
"If you look, it’s directly proportional," Tseng said. "All the front row got it, some of the second row, and the people who didn’t catch it were in the back row. So it really it is airborne, and it can spread."
Health care providers are beginning to look more at the long-term impacts of COVID-19 infections, which for some can lead to increased chances of strokes or heart attacks.
Routine checkups need to become important again.
"I can tell you across the board, all the preventative measures — colon cancer screening, blood pressure screening, cervical cancer screening — all of that has come down," Tseng said.
This week, county health officials announced that they have shifted the focus of case investigations to people 65 and older. Tseng is encouraging people who test positive to reach out to their health providers as there may be treatments available aimed at keeping them out of the hospital.
"Because that’s the last place you want to be," Tseng said. "Because, when that happens, your body has lost its fight — we have to come in and intervene. We want you to stay healthy and stay out of the hospital."
Tseng is proud of how health care workers have performed over the past two years.
"We showed up," Tseng said. "We showed up to help despite the fears that we had. We showed up to help our patients, our community, our family members."
The California Department of Public Health reports that at least 569 health care workers have died from COVID-19 over the past two years. In San Diego County, more than 5,100 people have lost their lives. There have been over 743,000 confirmed cases in the county.