Story Corps
Medical personnel aid a COVID-19 patient at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center In Los Angeles.
photo credit: AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

Countywide, there are currently 33 COVID-19 patients in the hospital. The average number of COVID hospitalization rates has almost doubled from last week. And so have the number of patients admitted to the ICU. 

“For a week or two it was really quiet,” said Dr. Gary Green, medical director of infection control at Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital. “And then just as of last weekend, we had a number of patients come into the hospital and had to be admitted because they needed oxygen support.”

Green saw the recent uptick in hospitalizations.

“We went from one person in the hospital to seven, and that was just over a weekend, and so that was quite a bit,” Green said. “We also noticed that in this group of patients, no one was vaccinated, so these are unvaccinated folks.” 

Kaiser Permanente in Santa Rosa is seeing similar hospitalization rates. And throughout the county, 96 percent of the hospitalizations and 100 percent of patients in the ICUs are unvaccinated people. 

“And it’s really nerve wracking to see a young person under 50 with few to no medical problems struggling to breathe, we are just not used to seeing that in this country,” Green said.

Besides the expected pattern of hospitalizations occurring in unvaccinated people, Green also noticed something more surprising. The COVID patients admitted have been predominantly younger, between the ages of twenty and fifty. That’s a lot different from the patterns he noticed earlier in the pandemic, when more elderly COVID patients were the ones in the hospital. And these younger age groups represent some of the lowest vaccination rates throughout the county.

“And that’s good and bad news,” Green said. “It’s good news because people who are vaccinated are not showing up to the hospital. But it’s also bad news knowing that the ones that are unvaccinated are more dangerous and vulnerable to becoming infected and circulating coronavirus right now.”

Green said this uptick doesn’t compare to the winter surge, when COVID hospitalizations were in the hundreds. But he does worry about what the increase means for community transmission, especially with the emergence of the highly transmissible delta variant.

“We’re not seeing extraordinarily high levels but we don’t want that to be a pattern of increase at a time when a more transmissible strain is starting to circulate more in the country,” Green said. 

Dr. Jenny Fish is a physician at Santa Rosa Community Health and co-founder of local nonprofit (H-PEACE) Health Professionals for Equality and Community Empowerment. When she noticed the COVID hospitalization numbers increasing this week, she posted on social media to warn people to be extra careful. 

“I don’t think this is just a blip, I think we are actually going into a surge,” Fish said.

Fish said because of lag times between exposure, testing and symptoms, we haven’t yet seen exactly how the statewide reopening has affected covid numbers, especially in underserved communities that have been hit by COVID the hardest. 

“It made my blood run cold because right now we don’t have any mask mandates, we don’t have any restrictions, everything is fully open,” Fish said. “People you know are throwing graduation parties, people are camping. And so I’m super concerned about the gathering and I’m super concerned about the risk of transmission.” 

Deputy county health officer Kismet Baldwin said she and her colleagues have their eye on the increasing hospitalization rates among mostly unvaccinated people. 

“It’s a change and any change we want to delve into a little bit more,” Baldwin said.

Reiterating what public health officials have been saying over and over for months now, Green said continued vaccination is key to keeping people out of the hospital. 

“It becomes a real public health tragedy for people to be hospitalized for an illness that they could have been vaccinated for,” Green said.

As of today 75 percent of the county has received at least one vaccine shot.



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