New Strategies Required as COVID Becomes Endemic: San Diego Hospital Chief

Models show cases may have peaked, but hospitalization surge likely to follow.

NBC Universal, Inc.

After an unprecedented weekend surge of COVID cases in San Diego County, the Chief Medical Officer for UC San Diego Health says this is the year to start looking at new ways to deal with case surges he expects to recur every winter.

“We can not live in a perpetual state of emergency. We’re going to have to figure out strategies for living with this,” said Dr. Christopher Longhurst.

Longhurst's comments come after cases exploded to more than 49,000 over a three-day period starting last Friday. About a third of the cases were due to reporting delays from the previous week, according to the county.

The recent surge of cases continues to strain local hospitals as thousands of health care workers have tested positive.

At UC San Diego Health, 900 staff members have been out with COVID over the last week. At least 30 operations had to be postponed last week as well, according to Longhurst.

Longhurst said the unprecedented surge was expected. Models created by UC San Diego, which include wastewater samples, predicted cases would peak last weekend.

“Sure enough, we’re actually seeing at UC San Diego, our case load has dropped Monday and Tuesday. And so we’re cautiously optimistic that we’ve seen that peak when it comes to that Omicron surge here in San Diego,” said Longhurst.

But Longhurst said cases remain high, and models are predicting a surge in hospitalizations is still to come.

“We know that hospitalizations and of course deaths are lagging indicators. Models forecast peak hospitalizations won’t occur until late in January, and so that will continue to impact our operations for sure,” said Longhurst.

Meanwhile, in talking about strategies to deal with COVID in the future, Longhurst said there needs to be a new way of thinking. He said COVID is becoming endemic rather than a pandemic.

“That means that this is something that is going to be predictable, happening with some regularity, probably every winter and fortunately it’s evolved to be more mild as we’re seeing,” Longhurst said.

New strategies could include setting new thresholds for hospitalizations.

“We know this is going to occur again next winter, we need to get out of this state of perpetual emergency, and start being more planful for how we’re going to approach that, so we can return to some semblance of normal daily life, but avoid these crises as they’ve been coming up recently,” said Longhurst.

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