Commentary: The Next Wave is Here, Can We Ride It Out without a Shutdown?

Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Yesterday I got a call from staff at my kid’s school—we were supposed to have a Zoom video conference but it was called off at the last moment, as it turns out there was not enough staff to attend because they were out with COVID protocols.

Before the break, Interim Superintendent Matt Best told the Vanguard that they had no plans to go remote, despite UC having already announced even before the latest surge that they would do so.  As of yesterday, they had not changed their minds, but one wonders how long before their hands are forced.

For now, I have bought better masks for the children and hope to keep them in school, but I’m more than a little nervous about the situation.

The seven-day average is just below 500,000 now.  Up 239 percent over just two weeks ago.  I figured we were heading for half a million a day, but I had no idea it would be happen this quickly.

It feels a lot like March 2020, only more cases.  The difference still is that we know a lot more about how to prevent the spread of COVID than we did two years ago and we have two thirds of the population vaccinated, which, while not preventing infection, seems to be limiting hospitalization.

The NY Times noted that there is no appetite for shutting down again.  But what has happened has been de facto shutdowns.  We have seen a rash of sporting events cancelled because too many players are in COVID protocols—even with relaxing those protocols.

We have seen huge amounts of flights disrupted.  And if teachers start getting COVID in large numbers, schools are going to shut down and go remote as well.

That’s already happened in places like Newark, Atlanta, Milwaukee and Cleveland.

The Times reports that “although politicians, including Mayor Eric Adams of New York and Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, vowed to keep schools open, there were growing fears from parents and educators that more districts would soon turn to remote learning — even though in-school transmission of Covid-19 has been limited.”

Once schools start going remote it will have a cascading effect: “Those decisions could, in turn, radiate through the country, affecting child care, employment and any confidence that the pandemic’s viselike grip was loosening.”

So far, the Times reports, few schools in California have closed.  California has been among the most aggressive in the nation and “has managed to maintain comparatively low rates of virus-related deaths and hospitalizations.”

But California has not been immune to the latest wave.

In an LA Times article, they report, “”In a dramatic sign of Omicron’s relentless spread, the coronavirus transmission rate in Los Angeles County is now estimated to be greater than at any point since the early months of the pandemic, as cases explode across California, data show.  Every infected person in L.A. County is on average transmitting the virus to two other people, according to estimates from California’s COVID-19 computer models published Monday morning.”

In Sacramento, “Sacramento County’s case rate for COVID-19 has exploded to the highest point of the pandemic, nearly tripling in one week as the extremely contagious omicron variant takes over.”

“The county’s latest seven-day case rate is 72 per 100,000, soaring well past the previous record of 64 set in December 2020 and with no sign of slowing,” the report continues, noting that it was 26 per 100,000 a week earlier and 10 per 100,000 in late November.

In a separate article, the Bee reported, “Roughly 500 students and staff tested positive for COVID-19 during the winter break, according to Sacramento City Unified School District officials Monday.”

That means of the nearly 20,000 test results reported to the district, roughly 1 in 40 were positive.

In Davis, I saw photos on social media of extraordinarily long lines for COVID testing at Healthy Davis Together.

Governor Newsom remains committed to keeping classrooms open, and new health rules that began on January 1 mandate that students wear face masks at all times and schools are urging their employees to upgrade to medical-grade N95 or KN95 face coverings.

I just ordered a whole pack of KN95s for my family.  In fact, health officials across the country are warning that cloth masks are not enough.

“Single-layer cloth masks, which many people prefer for comfort and style, can block larger droplets carrying the virus, but aren’t as effective in blocking smaller aerosols or particles carrying the virus, according to infectious-disease specialists,” the Wall Street Journal reported this week.

CDC in new guidelines recommends people wear masks that “that are multilayered and tightly woven, that fit snugly and have an adjustable wire nose bridge.”

The state of California recommends wearing a surgical mask, either by itself or in conjunction with a cloth mask, or wearing a N95, KN95 or KF94 mask.

Buckle up folks, 2022 has arrived and the first month figures to be a little hairy.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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29 Comments

  1. Alan Miller

    The difference still is that . . .

    You forgot that the Omicron is manifesting most often in the upper respiratory tract rather than deeper in the lungs, thus causing less serious complications such as pneumonia.

    I saw photos on social media of extraordinarily long lines for COVID testing at Healthy Davis Together.

    So they could gather with others and hope everyone got tested and timed it perfectly so the events weren’t super-spreaders.

    “Single-layer cloth masks, which many people prefer for comfort and style, can block larger droplets carrying the virus, but aren’t as effective in blocking smaller aerosols or particles carrying the virus, according to infectious-disease specialists,”

    masks that “that are multilayered and tightly woven, that fit snugly and have an adjustable wire nose bridge.”

    The mixed-mask-message has been a complete cluster f*ck.  Wearing self-protecting masks should have been the protocol all along, but thanks to Fauchi and the entire messaging apparatus of the U.S. Government, only now, when everyone is OVER masks, are we finally being told the right thing.

    I have a booster vaccination coming up.  The initial two shots were easy.  Went to my turn, had both appointments in ten minutes.  After TWO HOURS I was able to get a booster in Sacramento in five weeks after going to five websites, as neither MyTurn nor Healthy Davis Together do shots anymore (although there is a long form to fill out at MyTurn before you find that out).  Are they trying to discourage boosters, after promoting them?

    Trying two weeks later, I was able to book a shot a few days out at CVS in Davis.  Here’s my comments to CVS:

    • Scheduling the initial vaccine was EASY elsewhere; scheduling this was time consuming – which discourages people – WHY?  Also, a week earlier the earliest I could get was 25 miles away in a month, or in town 5 weeks out.  WHY?
    • Masks are RECOMMENDED?  Are you kidding?
    • Why are the recent guidelines to upgrade masks to use only surgical or N95 not required for visit?
    • Why is no guidance given at all for the TYPE of mask to wear?
    • Why wait 15-30 extra minutes indoors where one might be exposed to the virus?
    • Why isn’t the option to receive this outdoors at a tent offered, since we know Covid-19 is spread by concentration of virus particles indoors in closed atmosphere, and Omicron can be caught 2 hours after an infected person leaves the room it is so contagious?

    I would like to be vaccinated outdoors if in any way possible!!!

    –Alan C. Miller, Davis, CA

    1. Keith Olson

      It’s looking like we’re in the endemic phase of COVID.  The Omicron variant is causing milder infections due to its unique collection of mutations along with the buildup of immunity across the world.  I feel it’s time to start moving on and getting society closer to normal.  Unfortunately this is an election year and there will be those who will try to use Omicron for political purposes.  

       

      1. David Greenwald

        People are voting with their feet.

        NYT: “Officials across the United States, from President Biden on down, have been insisting that they are no longer in the shutdown business, and will not order any closures to contain the latest surge in coronavirus cases. But Omicron may be taking the decision out of their hands. So many workers are testing positive or calling in sick that businesses, schools, government agencies and more are being crippled by staff shortages that may force them to close some operations anyway.”

        I just pulled my kids out of school today. We’ll reevaluate later in the week.

      2. Bill Marshall

        If we stop pushing for vaccinations, logical masking, distancing, and go back to pre-2020 “normal”… well ‘you ain’t seen nothing yet’ as to hospitalizations, morbidity, death… could easily be not ‘endemic’ but super pandemic…

        Unfortunately this is an election year and there will be those who will try to use Omicron for political purposes, particularly those who want everything pre-2020, and want to deny that Covid is far more dangerous than rabies and plague, which are truly more endemic in CA.  Always present.

    2. Keith Y Echols

      While true (and meant to mention it again here), hospitalization rate is still high enough to overwhelm the system.

      Are you certain?  Just eyeballing the Yolo County dashboard; it appears that while infections have sky rocketed that the hospitalization number has hovered around 12 (with typically only one unvaccinated) for the past 6 weeks to 2 months which is greater than it was before Omicron but not nearly the corresponding increase of the infection rate (again, I’m just eyeballing it).  Maybe a greater number of hospitalizations will follow but so far I haven’t seen it.

      1. David Greenwald

        That will be an interesting test, usually it’s lagged about two to four weeks behind the surge.  Also keep in mind, while Omicron is now about 58% of cases, Delta is still 42 percent, which means about 200,000 cases a day are Delta.

        1. Keith Y Echols

          From SFGATE

          Even though hospitalizations are also trending upward, one prominent expert says the trend of case and hospitalization “decoupling” is continuing. UCSF’s Dr. Bob Wachter estimated last week that if this wave were like other waves, the city should have at least twice as many hospitalizations as it does given the case increases recorded in prior weeks.
          For this number of cases, I would expect to see far higher hospitalizations if this was as virulent as prior variants,” he wrote in an email to SFGATE.
          In mid-December, San Francisco posted new daily case totals that exceeded numbers from the summer delta variant-driven wave and last winter’s wave. However, two weeks later, the city’s hospitalization numbers are still a fraction of what they were during the previous two waves. UCSF’s Dr. George Rutherford told SFGATE that in the past, hospitalizations have tended to increase 10 days after cases started to increase.

  2. Keith Olson

    As Alan stated above:

    You forgot that the Omicron is manifesting most often in the upper respiratory tract rather than deeper in the lungs, thus causing less serious complications such as pneumonia.

    Omicron is a sign of the endemic, the symptoms are much more mild and deaths from it are almost non existent.

  3. Dave Hart

    I have a technical question and hot sure where to find the answer.  I sent an email to Andy Fell at Healthy Davis Together (HDT) asking about the testing process itself and if the system allows for more than one variant to be detected in those who test positive.  I’ve wondered if more of the breakthrough infections are Omicron alone or if the hospitalizations are a combination of both Omicron and Delta.  We know the Delta has more severe symptoms.  Is it possible there are more than one strain infecting some people and that may be complicating the picture?

      1. Bill Marshall

        Is it possible there are more than one strain infecting some people and that may be complicating the picture? (DH)
        the testing at this point cannot determine which variant someone has. (DG)
        I don’t think they can infect simultaneously (DG)

        The truthful, honest answer would be “we don’t know” (or, particularly, “I don’t know”)… as to simultaneity… the “I think…” response is exactly why so many folk are confused or skeptical… I suspect I have much more background in biology, and “I don’t know”, so won’t posit an “I think”…

        The testing capability, depending on test method can detect either or both variants.

        The variants don’t matter much as to protocols and/or public policy… kinda’ like arguing about how many angels are dancing on the head of a pin… there is a virus… your results may vary as to ‘flavor’ and how it might affect you or others… but it impacting many…

        To argue that it is now ‘endemic, no worries’, or to argue about severity/transmissibility of original/Delta/Omicron, is like arguing about the best way to avoid injury if you need to cut a log… chainsaw, knife, axe… the best way to avoid injury is to be conscient of risks, and careful (following safety precautions).

         

      2. Dave Hart

        David, where have you been?  HDT testing does provide the variant.  That’s what makes their program so amazing.  I did a search (not my own research) and found it is possible to have co-infections with covid, flu and probably other viruses.

        https://www.healthline.com/health-news/yes-you-can-contract-2-coronavirus-strains-at-the-same-time-what-to-know

        I ask the question because it is not clear to me that HDT or any other testing system is actually looking for the presence of multiple covid variants in a single sample from an individual.  If you don’t look, you don’t find it.

        1. Keith Y Echols

          I ask the question because it is not clear to me that HDT or any other testing system is actually looking for the presence of multiple covid variants in a single sample from an individual.  If you don’t look, you don’t find it.

          Can I ask, other than for academic virologist researchers, what difference does it make which strain or multiple strains a person tests for in a community?  In terms of community health recommendations and protocols it pretty much remains the same: get vaccinated, when possible keep your distance from others, wear a mask indoors or when in close quarters with others, avoid being indoors with others if possible, if possible get regularly tested.  If you get infected; quarantine/isolate for a week or two, if symptomatic wait until it goes away, if possible test negative…if you can’t breathe go to the doctor/hospital.   None of this changes no matter which variant or multiple variants are out there or you get infected with one or multiple variants.

        2. Dave Hart

          I’m not a doctor, just a guy asking questions instead of trying to sound like an expert. It would seem that for positive tests there may be an implication for people who have only one variant versus another.  If it turns out that Omicron is, in fact, less virulent it may inform isolation rules for one variant over another.  We know Delta seemed to have more severe outcomes.  Would you want your doctor to know you were infected with Delta alone or even a mix of the two?

        3. Keith Y Echols

           It would seem that for positive tests there may be an implication for people who have only one variant versus another.

          Instead of testing every person for multiple strains; wouldn’t it make more sense to simply check the samples for a specific strain of interest.  If enough samples comeback as a certain kind of strain, then that’s the strain you base your public health recommendations and protocols on.  And if you care about severity of infection; just follow the hospitalization rates.

          Would you want your doctor to know you were infected with Delta alone or even a mix of the two?

          Sure, it would be interesting.  But in terms of treatment, it mostly doesn’t matter; isolate.  wait for any symptoms to go away.  test negative.  if you can’t breathe, they give you O2.  If you really can’t breathe they put you on a ventilator.  I believe (but don’t hold me to it…do your own research) that the ani-viral treatments work regardless of which variant one is infected with.

        4. Ron Glick

          If you  were to get infected by two strains at the same time the strain that reproduces more quickly would crowd out the other strain if they compete for the same receptor. I believe that is the case with Omni and Delta as it was before with Alpha and Delta.

        5. Dave Hart

          I’ve read that Omicron tends to stay in the upper respiratory tract and not migrate or aggressively infect the lungs.  So if you test positive for Omicron, but also have Delta in your lungs, you might only test positive for Omicron and then Omicron gets credit for a later hospitalization or death.  Now, it just seems to me like we (all of us) need to know the full picture instead of equating one type of strain with another.  But what do I know?  I’m the dumbest guy here.

        6. Dave Hart

          One other thought.  If and I admit it’s an “if”, a person is co-infected with both variants, and it’s the Delta that hospitalizes or kills due to being unvaccinated, the existing protocols might not need to be changed to provide reasonable protection.  That is, yes, you may get lots of breakthrough Omicrons, but if vaccinations provide good protection against the Delta then the Omicron is more of a nuisance than a serious health hazard to the vaccinated.  Why shut down or try to go full N95 and get freaked out if it may not really be necessary?  That’s why I think it’s important to actually find out what’s up with co-infections.  I realize there is no stated national goal for how to manage this pandemic; but, it would seem returning to a normal way of life should be one.  Creating ever more confusing protocols with imperfect knowledge really sets us all back.

  4. Don Shor

    No need for a general shutdown, and it wouldn’t work or do any good anyway from the looks of it. We just need to follow these simple instructions and everything should be fine.

    1. Bill Marshall

      As what you posted, Don, is illegible, it would be helpful to supply the link… I believe you are exactly on the right track…

      Thank you for the effort.

    2. Hiram Jackson

      I appreciate that decision tree, however I wonder if the omicron variant is considered as safe within the 15-minute threshold, like previous variants.  Seems that it is easier to catch than previous variants.

  5. Mark Yelton

    I think people are not focusing on the end game. By that, the more people infected, the higher the probability of a mutation. The real threat is not what is going around now, whether it be the Delt or the Omicron or the original, but what could be lurking within the next mutation. The next mutation is maybe even less debilitating than the Omicron. Yet, it could be as quickly transmitted as the Omicron but more deadly than the original Covid. Therein lies the problem. Nobody can say with any certainty what, if, or even when the next mutation will be arriving. Suppose this virus was an intelligent enemy such as intellectual life from another planet. In that case, the best way to out humans is to lull people into thinking the current mutation is not so bad, so relax and then mutate into something that kills as rapidly as it spreads. The real danger is always from within.

  6. David Greenwald

    This was reported on CBS LA

     

    “I do expect hospitalizations will exceed the July 2020 wave because we’re basically within one day of that,” Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist and UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention said. “I do not expect we will exceed the January 2021 wave.”

    Noymer said residents “need to understand that any adult who has a cold right now, vaccinated or unvaccinated, quite possibly has COVID and staying home from work when you’re sick can go a long way toward keeping people out of the hospital. … If you think about going to work anyway, the life you save won’t be yours because you’re well enough to go to work, but the life you save is someone else — the grandmother of your co-worker maybe.”

    Noymer added, “There’s a narrative going around that it’s the sniffles and it is for a lot of people, no doubt about it, but the thing is it’s still COVID. We still have hospitalizations that have outpaced the Delta wave and the deaths haven’t started coming up yet, but they will. Probably fewer on average than Delta, but still… We still need to treat the virus with respect. I’m not saying hide in your basement, but treat the virus with respect.”

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