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Wastewater samples indicate major increase in COVID-19 spread in San Diego

Posted at 4:19 PM, Jul 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-25 21:17:55-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - The latest wastewater numbers show San Diego is seeing a massive spike in the spread of COVID-19.

Doctor Chris Longhurst, Chief Medical Officer of UC San Diego Health, says wastewater testing has become the best way to predict just how much virus is in the community.

"We know that this wastewater is particularly helpful now that everyone is home testing. We don't have as many people testing at the hospital or county to give us a sense of how many cases there are, so this wastewater has been tremendously valuable, and we know the disease prevalence is back up again," said Longhurst.

Hospitalizations are also up. Sharp Healthcare has roughly 156 patients with COVID. Scripps Health has 133, and UC San Diego has 70 COVID patients.

The numbers are still nowhere near where they were with the Omicron surge this past winter.

"The vaccines are holding up for severe disease and hospitalizations. In fact, we've only had a few patients mechanically ventilated [in] the last few weeks, and also almost all of them are unvaccinated patients. So the vaccine is still the best first line of defense," said Longhurst.

Hospital staff is also feeling the impact. A spokeswoman with Sharp says they have several hundred employees out either with COVID or because they are caring for someone who has it.

Longhurst says UCSD is also seeing staffing challenges, but he's more concerned about the months ahead.

"We're concerned when we look to this winter; Australia, for example, is seeing unprecedented levels of hospitalization now three years into the pandemic."

Longhurst says activating the CA Notify App on your smartphone is an easy way to help break the cycle of transmission. The digital tool was pioneered in San Diego.

"For things like eating in restaurants, going to movie theatres and other indoor spaces where you might be at higher risk but not know the people around you," said Longhurst.

A useful tool as navigating the virus continues to be a way of life.

"I think it's clear that COVID is going to be around as an endemic virus for a long, long time. I'm guessing my kids and grandkids will be familiar, but over time this will become less and less severe in terms of these peaks, we'll see less summertime peaks more of wintertime peaks," said Longhurst.

Longhurst says what's circulating now probably has a mortality rate similar to or less than the flu but can still be dangerous for the elderly or those with compromised immune systems.