The new Eris COVID variant (EG.5) is spreading globally and what we are seeing in San Diego County is mirroring what is happening across the country and across the state. Sharp Rees-Steely Medical Group Chief Impact Officer Dr. Abisola Olulade said there has been a slight uptick in cases and hospitalizations.
“Remember that those case counts are never going to be accurate as to what is really going on because most people are testing at home,” she said. “What the Center for Disease Control and Prevention is using now is hospitalizations admissions which is problematic in some ways because that will be lagging in what is really going on. We are seeing that the new strain is dominant across the country according to what the County released in its Respiratory Virus Report this week.”
The County is reporting the current positivity rate at 11.8%. Olulade said she just heard from the County and its sample testing are limited regarding the Eris variant, so they are not drawing anything conclusive from its tests yet. She said it looks like the Eris variant.
“Eris is a nickname, and it is still in the Omicron family and has become dominant very quickly across the country,” she said. “The fact that it has out competed the other variants means that it is quite contagious, but what we are seeing from the World Health Organization, it does not seem to be more virulent, so there is no evidence that it is causing more severe cases. But if more people get infected, we may see those hospital rates go up. We expect that the vaccines that we have available now, and the one expected to come out in September, we expect they will keep people from getting more severe cases and so there is no indication that the vaccine will not be protective.”
Olulade said the positivity rate in the county has gone up from 9% to over 11% in the past few weeks.
“It tells us that COVID is spreading in the community,” she said. “People are travelling, so we expect it. People are gathering. They are going to concerts and movies. We do see an uptick in summer so this variant may have a summer seasonality but people we are seeing breaking numbers of people traveling worldwide.”
“With all the variations of Omicron, they are getting more and more contagious,” she continued. “When they can outcompete each other, they are able to have an advantage. It gives them that ability. If you are out and about, the chances of you getting exposed to COVID at some point is essentially 100%. It is everywhere. You want to be ready for that. It is a matter of when. Not if.”
Olulade said in terms of vaccines, it is concerning.
“That report is concerning because in terms of people updated on their vaccinations, it is not high,” she said. “Even people that are in that highest risk category, people 65 and older, they have the highest levels of vaccinations, but it is only 51% of them are up to date on their COVID vaccinations. That is concerning going into the fall because it is the age group that is most susceptible to severe illness. If you look at children in that 5 to 11 age group, only 8% have gotten vaccinated. And 12- 17, only 14%. Getting the vaccines is the best way to protect yourself. As school starts, we may see cases go up in the fall. I think another important note to take is that we may see another uptick in other viruses as well. Last year we saw an increase in RSV and the flu. It is important to protect ourselves against all of those as well.”
Olulade said the same things work for all of them. Stay up with vaccines. Stay home when you are sick. Washing hands.
“If you have respiratory symptoms try to take a test. That helps us know if you need an antiviral which is available and can help from getting severe cases,” she said.
Olulade said at Sharp, they have seen a slight uptick in hospitalizations, but that it is stable.
“None of these case rates and hospitalizations are anything like we were seeing last year, but vaccines should be updated because they protect everyone going into the fall where we may see cases going up even more,” she said. “Part of the reason why we may be seeing an increase in patients is immunity is waning, especially for people not up to date.”
She said the CDC rates of hospitalization are at about 9,000 as of last week, compared to the levels last year at this time that were 40,000.
“We are nowhere near those levels, but we still want to protect ourselves,” she said. “The virus is still here, and it is not going away anytime soon.”
Olulade said since the pandemic is declared over, it is much more difficult to get information now, but the CDC and WHO are keeping track with as much information as they get.