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San Diego County officials urge caution as trio of viruses hits community

People 6 months and older should get vaccinated against the flu, says this government poster on display  in a health center in Decatur, Ga.
David Goldman AP
People 6 months and older should get vaccinated against the flu, says this government poster on display in a health center in Decatur, Ga.

San Diego County's public health officials continued to urge caution Friday as winter approaches and three highly-communicable respiratory viruses remain present in the community.

In addition to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the county is seeing an early spike of flu and respiratory syncytial virus cases. Flu cases rose by 1,198 last week and have now hit 3,735 to date, compared to 265 cases at this time last year.

According to the county's Health and Human Services Agency, influenza cases typically do not peak until December — at which time RSV begins to increase. Regional RSV cases reached 1,020 through October, compared with 407 for the same period last year.

The HHSA is using some of the same tactics developed during the COVID- 19 pandemic to try to curb the spread of disease.

"We know and have witnessed how diseases can have a disproportionate impact, especially in communities of color," said Nora Vargas, vice chair of the County Board of Supervisors. "Our county has greatly expanded outreach and implemented innovative strategies during the COVID-19 pandemic, and I'm committed to ensuring our communities have equitable access to resources such as vaccinations, treatment and accurate information to protect their health and safety."

The county's COVID numbers experienced a slight increase over the previous week, with 1,702 cases reported in the last seven days — compared to 1,569 infections identified the previous week. The cumulative total infections climbed to 931,279. Deaths with the virus increased by eight to a cumulative 5,532.

County health officials announced Thursday they are collaborating with regional medical providers to support their response to the recent influx in illnesses.

"Healthcare providers are experiencing the effects of these viruses right now in regional medical centers and clinics across our bi-national region," said UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla. "UC San Diego Health was an early leader nationally in COVID response due to its medical expertise and innovative partnerships with researchers, business and community leaders and government agencies.

"Leveraging the valuable lessons learned from the pandemic, I am confident San Diego will continue to be a model city for public health response through cooperation, transparency and the willingness to share resources," he said.

The HHSA urged San Diegans to get vaccinated now, as both the flu and COVID vaccine take two weeks to become fully effective.

"Seeing a large number of flu cases this early in the flu season typically means flu activity is going to be sustained and possibly more severe," said Dr. Wilma J. Wooten, county public health officer. "If more viruses are circulating in the community, healthy people are at a higher risk of getting infected, so this year more than ever, it is critical to get vaccinated."

More than 2.68 million or 80.3% of San Diegans have received the primary series of one of the approved COVID-19 vaccines. A total of 1,485,461 or 59.6% of 2,490,433 eligible San Diegans have received a booster.

According to area hospitals, the viruses currently in circulation are hitting seniors and children particularly hard. Flu and RSV patients are currently filling local pediatric care providers, with wait times at Rady Children*s Hospital exceeding several hours last week.

"RSV is a common virus in children that usually appears during winter months. The difference this year is that we are seeing it earlier and at unprecedented levels, which has impacted emergency department wait times and hospital capacity," said Dr. Patrick Frias, president and CEO of Rady Children's Hospital-San Diego. "You can make a difference by getting the entire family vaccinated against flu and COVID, staying home when sick, and seeking the right level of care to ensure the sickest patients are able to access medical services in the most appropriate setting."

Additionally, the county's schools are seeing the impact of the trio of viruses on students and faculty.

"Schools have learned many lessons from the height of the pandemic that can support our collective efforts to care for staff, students and their families," said San Diego County Superintendent of Schools Paul Gothold, who on Thursday cited increased collaboration with public health, improved air filtration systems and implementation of health practices to mitigate viruses. "As a parent myself, I want to reassure our community that we have the resources and collective experience to get through this, but it's going to take everyone doing their part."

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