Tag Archives: corona

Covid Still Kills, but the Demographics of Its Victims Are Shifting

By Phillip Reese  SEPTEMBER 21, 2022

As California settles into a third year of pandemic, covid-19 continues to pose a serious threat of death. But the number of people dying — and the demographics of those falling victim — has shifted notably from the first two years.

Given the collective immunity people have garnered through a combination of mass vaccination and protections built from earlier infections, Californians overall were far less likely to die from covid in 2022, when the omicron variant dominated, than during the first two years of the pandemic, when other variants were largely at play, amplifying a national trend.

Still, each week, the virus is killing hundreds of Californians, hitting hardest among the unvaccinated. The virus remained among the state’s leading causes of death in July, trailing heart disease, cancer, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease but outpacing diabetes, accidental death, and a host of other debilitating diseases. In the first seven months of the year, about 13,500 California residents died of covid, according to preliminary death certificate data from the state Department of Public Health. By comparison, the virus killed about 31,400 people in 2020 and almost 44,000 in 2021.

From April 2020 through December 2021, covid killed an average of 3,600 people a month, making it the third-leading cause of death in the state cumulatively for that time period, behind heart disease and cancer. From December 2020 through February 2021, it briefly overtook heart disease as the leading cause of death, taking the lives of more than 38,300 Californians in just three months. During its most recent peak, in January 2022, covid took about 5,900 lives.

Covid fell out of the top 10 causes of death for a brief period in the spring only to reenter this summer as the omicron variant continued to mutate. In July, even with more than 70% of Californians fully vaccinated, covid was the fifth-leading cause of death, cutting short more than 1,000 lives, state data show.

Clearly vaccinations made a difference. Covid death rates fell in recent months as covid shots and prior infections afforded much of the population significant protection against severe illness, said Dr. Timothy Brewer, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at UCLA. Brewer said the omicron variant, while more transmissible than earlier strains, appears to be a milder version of the virus. Research into that question is ongoing, but preliminary data suggests omicron is less likely to cause serious disease and death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which also notes that the severity of symptoms can be affected by vaccination status, age, and other health conditions.

The decline in deaths was particularly striking among California’s Latino population.

In 2020 and 2021, Latino residents accounted for 47% of covid deaths in California — about 35,400 deaths — although they make up 40% of the state’s population. By comparison, Latinos accounted for 34% of covid deaths from January through July 2022, according to state data. That translates to about 4,600 deaths.

Conversely, the proportion of covid deaths involving white residents increased from 32% in the first two years of the pandemic to 44% in the first seven months of 2022. That equates to 24,400 deaths involving white residents in 2020-21 and about 6,000 deaths in the first seven months of 2022. White people make up about 35% of the state’s population.

Researchers point to several factors in the shift. During the first two years of the pandemic, large numbers of the workers deemed essential, who continued to report to job sites in person, were Latino, while white residents were more likely to be employed in occupations that allowed them to work from home, U.S. Census Bureau surveys show.

“They just got exposed more,” said Dr. George Rutherford, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California-San Francisco. “They’re doing essential jobs and had to leave the house and go to work.”

An imbalance in remote work remains, census data shows, but today the large majority of both Latino and white workers in California are reporting to work in person.

Seciah Aquino, deputy director of the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California, said efforts to make sure that testing, treatment, and vaccinations were available to underserved communities of color also had an impact. And because Latino communities were hit so hard during the pandemic, she said, many California Latinos are still wearing masks. “They are still making sure that they’re staying home if they’re sick,” she said. “They’re still abiding by those policies even if the greater narrative is changing.”

Age is also a key factor in the demographic shifts, Brewer said.

Californians age 75 and older made up 53% of covid deaths through July in 2022, up from 46% in 2020 and 2021. Only about 6% of the state’s residents are 75 and older. And white Californians 75 and older outnumber Latinos in that age group about 3 to 1.

In the initial vaccination rollout, California prioritized seniors, first responders, and other essential workers, and for several months in 2021 older residents were much more likely to be vaccinated than younger Californians.

“Now, the vaccination rates have caught up pretty much with everybody except for kids, people under 18,” Brewer said. “You’re seeing it go back to what we saw before, which is that age remains the most important risk factor for death.”

More than 86% of Californians age 65 and older have completed their primary covid shot series. But the protection afforded by vaccines wanes over time, and since many seniors got their shots early, enough time passed between their second shot and the omicron wave of early 2022 to leave them vulnerable. About one-third of Californians 65 and older had not received a booster by early 2022, when the omicron wave peaked, and about one-quarter still haven’t received a booster.

Geographic shifts in covid prevalence have occurred throughout the pandemic: Outbreaks hit one area while another is spared, and then another community serves as the epicenter a few months later.

Residents of the San Francisco-Oakland metro area accounted for 7.8% of the state’s deaths in 2022, through early September, up from 5.4% in 2020-21. The area is home to about 12% of the state’s residents. The Sacramento metro area has also accounted for a higher share of covid deaths this year: 6% in 2022 versus 4.5% in 2020-21.

At the same time, Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim metro residents made up 42% of covid deaths in 2022, down slightly from 43% in 2020-21. The area is home to about 33% of the state’s residents. A similar dip happened in the nearby Riverside-San Bernardino metro area.

Again, age could be a factor in the geographic shifts. A higher proportion of residents in San Francisco and Sacramento are 75 and older than in Los Angeles and Riverside, census data show.

It’s unclear whether this shift will last. As the Los Angeles Times reported, covid deaths grew at a faster pace in July in L.A. County than they did in the Bay Area.

The data also shows that vaccination remains one of the strongest deterrents to death from covid. From January through July, unvaccinated Californians died at roughly five times the rate as vaccinated Californians. But the gap has narrowed. From April through December 2021, California’s unvaccinated residents died, on average, at around 10 times the rate of vaccinated Californians.

Brewer said the gap lessened because the omicron variant was more likely than earlier variants to “break through” and cause infection in vaccinated Californians. The omicron variant, while less deadly, also infected many more people than earlier variants.

This trend, too, may prove short-lived: The next generation of covid booster shots are rolling out across the state.

Phillip Reese is a data reporting specialist and an assistant professor of journalism at California State University-Sacramento.

This story was produced by KHN, which publishes California Healthline, an editorially independent service of the California Health Care Foundation.

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.

Covid Omicron Variant

The symptoms of the Omicron variant of Covid have been described as ‘extremely mild’ by doctors in South Africa where this variant was first detected. The symptoms were mild enough that no hospitalizations were required. The initial presenting symptoms in South Africa were an itchy throat, fatigue, headache and body aches. There were no complaints of cough or loss of taste or smell. Multiple patients began presenting with similar symptoms after which the vaccine advisory committee was notified. This gave an indication on the transmissibility of the strain.

More research is being done on this strain of the virus. Initial observations suggest that reinfection is common. Studies are being done to investigate the affects that this would have on diagnostics and vaccine coverage. The WHO has declared the strain a concern due to high rate of reinfection.

Many different countries have suspended travel to South Africa to avoid spread of the variant however South African authorities deemed the move unnecessary and raised the possibility of the strain already present in multiple countries. The variant has already been detected in the U.K, France, Israel, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Australia, Canada and Hong Kong. The U.S has not reported any cases yet.

We encourage everyone to be up to date on vaccinations, avoid gatherings, keep your distance and wear a mask. Let us play our part in stopping the spread.

Types of COVID-19 tests

Testing for Covid-19 has become an important part of our lives today. Testing for the virus may be done if you have come into close contact with an individual diagnosed with Covid-19, if you have symptoms associated with Covid-19 or even to satisfy travel requirements for different countries in the world. There are different tests that are available today to test for the virus.

The first type is the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test. Samples taken would be taken to the lab for testing using this methodology. The sample is usually a nasopharyngeal swab. The test directly screens for the presence of viral RNA in the sample and can therefore diagnose whether the patient has the virus or not. The disadvantage for this type of testing is that the sample needs to be sent to a lab and can take days for the result to come back. The result has a 30% chance to be inaccurately negative.

The second type of test is the Lateral Flow Test. This is also a type of an antigen test similar to PCR tests. In this test, the sample is placed on a pad and drawn via a capillary line onto strips that are coated with antibodies specific to SARS-Cov proteins. If viral proteins are present, a colored line is formed indicating the virus is present. Results are usually ready within 30 minutes. The accuracy for these types of test is around 80%.

The third type of test is antibody tests. This test is not used to diagnose active infection but it does give an indication of past infection or those that have immunity against the virus. If there is a very large number of people who have immunity in a population, it will stop the virus from spreading, something known as ‘herd immunity’.

How to Wear a Mask

Wearing a mask can prevent the spread of COVID-19 among other transmissible diseases, however this would only be possible if the mask is worn properly. We should all learn the proper way to wear a mask so we can effectively keep each other safe. Follow these tips to effectively wear a mask.

1. Before wearing a mask, we should wash our hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds so we do not get any germs on the mask. When we do touch the mask, it should only be on the elastic bands at the side. We should not touch the body of the mask, or the part that will go over our nose and mouth. This step is very important to keep the mask clean and free of germs.

2. The mask should cover the mouth and nose and should extend down to under the chin so it can fit closely in contact with the skin, creating a seal so air can only flow through the pores of the mask itself and not around the edges and corners of the mask. Masks with a nose wire is recommended so it can fit snugly around the bridge of the nose. If you use your hands to adjust the mask, remember to wash your hands before and after touching the mask.

3. Make sure the bands of the mask are not too tight that it would prevent you from breathing or talking or be uncomfortable in any way. You should be able to remain comfortable with the mask on.

4. If you are using a reusable mask, remember to wash the mask after each use and if you are using a disposable mask, remember to discard the mask after one use.

5. Avoid wearing masks with valves or vents that would allow air to escape unfiltered. Don’t share your mask with your friends or family. Always try to wear your mask when in public.

6. To remove the mask, wash your hands with soap and water and remove the mask by touching the elastic bands only. Discard the mask and wash your hands again.

Delta Variant – All you need to know

The Delta variant was identified in the ending of 2020 and was a result of a mutation to the original Covid-19 virus. It spread fast and soon became the dominant strain in both India and Britain. At this time the Delta variant is the dominant strain in over 100 countries including the Unites States and Europe.

This new variant has specific mutations on the ‘spike’ protein which make it easier for the virus to infect humans. This has resulted in the delta variant to be much more contagious than the alpha variant. Experts are recommending masking up even if you are vaccinated.

Symptoms of the delta variant are similar to the original strain and includes fever, headache, cough and runny nose. Loss of smell has a lower incidence with this strain. Vaccinated people have milder symptoms resembling a common cold or may even be asymptomatic.

Although breakthrough cases have been seen in vaccinated people, the numbers show cases rising in areas that have more unvaccinated people. People who have not yet been vaccinated are at a higher risk to become infected and spread the virus which is why it is our social responsibility to get vaccinated and protect ourselves and others

How do mRNA Vaccines work

Messenger RNA vaccines are a new type of vaccine that works different than the other types of vaccines that we are used to getting. Normally, vaccines are made by injecting a ‘deactivated’, harmless portion of the virus itself into the body to allow the body’s immune system to recognize the structure of the virus or of it’s associated proteins, without the risk of a harmful infection. The body identifies the foreign body and creates antibodies specific to it. These antibodies are what makes us immune to any disease. When the person catches the actual virus, the body is ready to fight off the infection with the antibodies that it made from the vaccine.

Messenger RNA vaccines work in a different manner. In this type of vaccine, we inject modified messenger RNA, that contains a sequence of bases that would be able to teach the cells of our body to make portions of viral proteins, into the muscles cells of our body. Normally mRNA in our body functions by taking instructions from the DNA, in bits and pieces and carries that information to the protein synthesis pathway for the synthesis of proteins. With the vaccine mRNA in the muscle cells, the protein synthesis pathway now starts making viral proteins but due to modified nature of the vaccine mRNA, the protein made is harmless.

The body recognizes the protein being made as foreign and starts creating antibodies against that protein structure, which is similar to the actual viral protein structure and effectively makes us immune to the virus itself.

Some of the COVID-19 vaccines, including Pfizer vaccine, uses this mechanism of action. These vaccines have been rigorously tested and have been held to high standards before allowing emergency use in the United States and other countries. MRNA vaccines do not use the live virus and therefore you cannot get infected with the vaccine.