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COVID: Experts Say Distinction In Hospitalization Numbers Important As California Case Rates Dip

MARIN COUNTY (KPIX 5) – New numbers from California state health officials Wednesday show COVID-19 cases are going down slightly. Despite there being 98,000 new cases, test positivity has dropped to just under 21%.

Some leading health experts believe the latest headlines about the record number of hospitalizations can be misleading, saying the distinction between patients hospitalized for COVID-19, versus with COVID, is more critical during the omicron surge.

"A lot more patients come in with something that isn't Omicron, but they test positive.  You come in with a broken leg, and oh my gosh you happen to have Omicron," said Chief Medical Officer of MarinHealth Medical Center Dr. Karen Shavelson.

In San Francisco, 256 people were hospitalized with COVID last January. It's up to 240 now.

Health officials say a larger percentage these days, sometimes half of COVID hospitalizations, are patients seeking treatment for something non-COVID related, but then test positive, and count as a COVID hospitalization.

"Things have changed where because it's so much more prevalent and infectious, and it's causing less severe illness. That distinction is becoming more important," said UCSF physician Dr. Anil Makam.

Data shows 165 COVID deaths last January in San Francisco. This month, despite at least a four-fold increase in cases, only five deaths so far in January 2022.

But without a doubt, Bay Area hospitals are feeling the pressure of staffing shortages, as a growing number of workers test positive.

"Just like the rest of society, more and more health care workers are out because of quarantine and isolation, caregiving needs, or because of illness," said Makam.

On Wednesday, caregivers at Queen of the Valley protested, demanding Napa's largest hospital improve recruitment with higher pay, saying staffing shortages are putting patients at risk.

"It's not safe for them because we are short-staffed. We need more staff," said hospital technician Martha McNallis.

In Marin County this week, only 1 out of 1,000 positive cases ended up in a hospital.  About half of those are being treated for COVID and the other half are admitted with COVID.

"There is a transition point for us in terms of my thinking about this virus. The protection of the vaccine is profound, it is protecting us. And we now are at the risk of some of the policies that have been appropriate in the past, but actually tilt towards greater social harm for us collectively," said Marin County public health officer Dr. Matt Willis.

One hospital executive said a way to help overwhelmed emergency rooms is not to try and get tested at these facilities.

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