Getting the public to change its mindset about COVID at this late stage, and after this late Omicron wave, is going to be a challenge. But an emergency medicine specialist at UCSF is one of many experts saying that after this surge abates, we've got to start living with this virus as like a weirder common cold.
UCSF Professor Dr. Jeanne Noble, who specializes in emergency medicine, spoke to ABC 7 Wednesday about the state of the Omicron surge as she sees it. Currently, in UCSF hospitals in SF and Oakland, there are 44 total patients with COVID-19 — but only 13 of them were actually admitted for COVID-related illness, and the other 31 were admitted for another reason and subsequently tested positive. And of those admitted just for COVID, half are unvaccinated and the other half immunocompromised, she says.
So, in other words, while we may hear of rare cases of the fully vaccinated having some serious outcome requiring hospitalization, it is far from the norm so far — especially with Omicron.
This is because, Noble tells ABC 7, "the virus replicates better in the upper airways, causing more of a common cold," and there is "less replication in the lower airways causing less of pneumonia and serious disease."
That was echoed in a series of tweets last week from New York City ER doctor Dr. Craig Spencer.
"Every patient I’ve seen with Covid that’s had a 3rd ‘booster’ dose has had mild symptoms," Spencer said. "By mild I mean mostly sore throat. Lots of sore throat. Also some fatigue, maybe some muscle pain." And he added that those with double-vaccination but no booster had similarly mild symptoms, maybe only slightly worse, but still none of the shortness of breath or difficulty walking across a room that was seen with earlier variants.
"And almost every single patient that I’ve taken care of that needed to be admitted for Covid has been unvaccinated," Spencer said. "Every one with profound shortness of breath."
As with other surges, medical experts have cautioned that the biggest concern is the overwhelming of hospitals and especially ICUs, but it is looking like that will not be a danger with this wave, at least in the Bay Area.
And Dr. Noble tells ABC 7 that after this surge peaks — likely in the next seven to ten days, she says — and cases drop off again, we have to start living our lives again and begin moving our mindsets beyond pandemic-era thinking.
We especially need to stop freaking out over asymptomatic cases, and so long as people are fully vaccinated we need to "pivot to living with COVID," Noble says.
"A lot of us are still living in this sort of 2020 panic of a positive COVID test means significant illness, [but] it really doesn't mean that anymore," Noble says. "At some point, we're going to have to dial back our asymptomatic testing."
This is probably cold comfort for some, and especially to parents of unvaccinated small children — with reports like this one of 49er Raheem Mostert's three-year-old son being recently hospitalized with severe COVID, though the child has since returned home. And nurses in the Bay Area have been saying, anecdotally, that the Omicron variant appears especially brutal on kids, for some reason.
And there is still no data on how many fully vaccinated people end up with long COVID, either from this variant or another — which is reason enough for caution.
New daily cases in SF — albeit with data still a week behind — show no sign of peaking just yet, with the seven-day average of new cases about triple any previous wave. We can cross our fingers that the peak is actually happening right now, though, or has already passed, and we'll see that in the data next week.