Category Archives: Covid 19

How COVID deaths compare to the past – In the last six months, California saw 3,472 deaths

[Note from BenIndy Contributor Roger Straw: This article paints a somewhat encouraging picture, comparing the number of current COVID deaths to those during the first 6 months of the pandemic. The good news is that there are far fewer deaths overall, but it stresses the proportionately higher rate of deaths among the elderly. Startling fact at the end – “the two youngest age groups are the only ones that saw more deaths in the past six months than early in the pandemic.” Take care of your young’uns! – R.S.]

Who’s dying now? Here’s how recent COVID deaths compare to the early months of the pandemic in California

In the last six months California saw 3,472 deaths, a fraction of the number that died in the first six months

Vallejo Times-Herald, by By Harriet Rowan, Bay Area News Group, April 16, 2024

Four years after the start of the COVID pandemic, the age and race of its victims in California have dramatically shifted: Now, a Bay Area News Group analysis finds, those who are dying from the virus are much older, and more often white than Latino, a notable switch.

While COVID deaths in California have plunged across all race and age groups, a comparison of deaths from the first six months of the pandemic to the most recent six months of data compiled by the California Department of Public Health shows 70% of those dying nowadays are 75 or older — up from just over half in early 2020.

And while Latinos made up nearly half of all Californians killed by COVID in the first six months of the pandemic, white residents now account for nearly 60% of all deaths.

The changing demographics and plummeting overall death toll exhibit how Californians built up immunity to the virus, experts say, through exposures and vaccines, and which groups are now the most vulnerable to the worst outcomes.

After four years of living with the virus, life is largely back to pre-pandemic normal. But when the virus first shut down our lives in 2020, face masks and working from home were foreign concepts to most. And while the speed of developing the first COVD vaccines was unprecedented in science, it took until early 2021 — the heart of the pandemic’s deadliest wave — for the public to get immunized. While COVID’s risk has certainly diminished, how much has its deadly wake actually changed in that time?

First, the virus is much less deadly. In the most recent six months for which data is available, from Sept. 1, 2023, through Feb. 29, 2024, there were 3,472 deaths attributed to the virus in California. But in the first six months of the pandemic, Feb. 1 through Aug. 31, 2020, more than four times that number of Californians died from COVID — 14,648.

“Wow, we are doing so much better than we were,” said Dr. John Swartzberg, clinical professor emeritus at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, his first reaction when looking at the data.

The total number of people dying has dropped across the board in nearly every category. More people over 85 died in the first six months of the pandemic, 4,209, than the number of deaths across all age groups in the past six months.

Second, your age is a factor. While older people have always been more vulnerable, they account for an even higher proportion of COVID deaths now.

The proportion of all COVID deaths among those 85 and older has grown from 29% to 42%. But that doesn’t mean the virus is deadlier for our elders: In the first six months of the pandemic, there were three times more deaths from the virus in that 85-and-older age group than there were in the most recent six-month period.

However small the number, there is one statistical peculiarity: The two youngest age groups are the only ones that saw more deaths in the past six months than early in the pandemic.

No deaths were reported among children younger than 14 in the Golden State through Aug. 31, 2020, but three young children have died from COVID, including two children under 5, in the last six months.

While deaths have become more concentrated among older Californians, another factor has changed dramatically: the racial breakdown of the people dying.

Early in the pandemic, “Blacks and Latinos struggled much more … in terms of mortality rates than any other population, primarily compared to Asian and White populations,” Swartzberg noted. “But that has flipped.”

The percentage of Californians who died who are White has nearly doubled, from 30% to 60% of all COVID deaths, from 4,332 deaths through August 2020, to 2,065 deaths in the most recent period. White people make up 37% of the state’s residents.

Moving in the other direction, the proportion of Latino deaths among those who died from COVID has shrunk from 49% of the first six months to just 20% of recent deaths. Latino people make up 39% of the state’s residents.

California’s Latino population is younger and therefore less at risk, Swartzberg said.

And he has some more educated guesses as to why the early pandemic death trends among racial groups have flipped so dramatically: In the first years of the pandemic, many Black and Latino communities were not getting vaccinated as quickly as their White counterparts, a combination of lack of access and insufficient outreach, but that has changed as the pandemic has evolved.

November 2023 poll by KFF, a nonprofit health care research foundation, found a slightly higher percentage of Black and Hispanic adults reported getting an updated vaccine, compared to 19% of White adults. And the gap grew when adding those who planned on getting the new vaccine but hadn’t yet, 59% of Black and Hispanic adults and just 42% of White adults. The poll also found White adults were less likely to take precautions against catching and spreading the virus during this past holiday season.

Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, a UCSF professor of medicine who specializes in infectious diseases, also points to political influence on vaccine uptake as “one of the most compelling trends.”

The KFF poll found Democrats were twice as likely as Republicans to say they had already gotten the updated vaccine, while 55% of Republicans said they would “definitely not get” the new vaccine compared to 12% of Democrats and 40% of independents.

“In the beginning, none of this was political … we were all in this together,” said Chin-Hong. “The differential in mortality was based on structural racism and lack of access, underlying medical problems. But then it became a very polarizing issue, like everything regarding COVID.”

More COVID on the Benicia Independent…


Your 2024 Guide to Covid Symptoms and Treatment

Roger Straw

[Note from BenIndy Contributor Roger Straw: Please know that COVID is still all around us: “Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated that, as of mid-February, more than 21,000 people were hospitalized with Covid, and there had been roughly 10,000 Covid-related deaths in 2024.”  Even when it’s relatively mild, COVID is no fun when you get it! And… it can be long-lasting. This article from the New York Times is a good update. Read on….]

Rest, fluids and medications are your friends.

New York Times, By Dana G. Smith, March 1, 2024

NYT: Getty images

We’re four years into the pandemic, and by this point, most Americans have had Covid at least once. But when the virus comes for us (again), it can still feel just as alarming as your first bout.

Here’s a guide to what Covid looks like now and how to treat it.


The most common Covid symptoms haven’t changed much since the start of the pandemic, and they remain consistent for the latest dominant variant, JN.1, said Dr. Soniya Gandhi, the associate chief medical officer at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. They include fatigue, sore throat, congestion, runny nose, headache, body aches and cough.

“All or any of those in isolation can still be Covid,” Dr. Gandhi said.

Some people may develop conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, or experience gastrointestinal issues, like nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, but those symptoms are rarer. Anecdotally, experts said, one of the most notable symptoms early in the pandemic — the loss of taste and smell — also appears to be less common these days.

“The biggest change is that people are having milder symptoms overall,” said Dr. Amanda Casto, an acting assistant professor of allergy and infectious diseases at the University of Washington. That’s because virtually everyone has some pre-existing immunity from vaccines, a prior infection or both.

While Covid is mild for most people, it can be dangerous and even fatal for some. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated that, as of mid-February, more than 21,000 people were hospitalized with Covid, and there had been roughly 10,000 Covid-related deaths in 2024.

Severe illness is a lot less prevalent now than during the first few years of the pandemic, “but we’re still seeing it,” said Dr. Stuart Ray, a professor in the division of infectious diseases at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore. The people who are getting sickest tend to be those with compromised immune systems and underlying health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes or lung problems. Adults over age 65 are also at higher risk for severe infections.

Since mild Covid can look like a cold or the flu, it’s important to test yourself if you have symptoms or have had a known exposure, Dr. Gandhi said. Knowing what you have can affect your treatment and how long you isolate from others.

On March 1, the C.D.C. updated its guidance for preventing the spread of Covid and other respiratory viruses. The agency recommended that people isolate until their symptoms have started to improve and they have been fever-free for at least 24 hours. The agency acknowledged that people may still be contagious at this point and should continue to take precautions, like masking and physical distancing, for the next five days.

The antiviral pill Paxlovid is very effective against severe Covid, reducing the risk of death by 73 percent if taken within the first five days of an infection, according to a preliminary study conducted by the National Institutes of Health. Experts urged people who are high-risk to contact their doctors about getting a prescription as soon as they have symptoms or test positive.

“If you’re elderly or you have comorbidities, before you even get worse, you should already seek medical care,” said Dr. Bernard Camins, the medical director for infection prevention at the Mount Sinai Health System in New York. “Your health care provider will then evaluate you if you’re a candidate for antivirals.”

Paxlovid isn’t recommended for everyone. It can interact with several medications, including common ones used to lower blood pressure or prevent blood clots, and it’s also not advised for people with severe kidney disease. If you can’t take Paxlovid, the drug remdesivir could be an option, but it has to be delivered intravenously, so it’s less convenient and harder to obtain.

Paxlovid also doesn’t appear to provide much benefit to young, healthy adults whose risk of severe infection is low, so it isn’t broadly recommended for those groups.

For most people, Covid symptoms can be managed at home and treated like any other respiratory illness, with an emphasis on rest and staying hydrated. “If you have congestion or cough, you’re losing more fluids than you normally would,” Dr. Casto said. “So I would definitely recommend that people stay on top of fluid.”

If you have a fever or body aches, take acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin). You can also take over-the-counter cold and flu medicines with decongestants or cough suppressants, though the experts didn’t recommend them strongly because they don’t work for everybody and can cause drowsiness.

If you’re experiencing shortness of breath — meaning you can’t catch your breath or are taking quick and shallow breaths — it’s important to seek medical attention right away.

“The thing that I worry most about is the breathing,” Dr. Casto said. “That’s the most concerning sign, because people can get” worse really quickly. If you’re having trouble breathing, she advised going to the emergency room rather than to your doctor or an urgent care clinic. Experts also said you should see a provider if you experience confusion or chest pain.

If your symptoms don’t improve after several days, or improve and then regress, it could be a sign you have a secondary infection like pneumonia, Dr. Casto said. In that case, or if you’re concerned about your symptoms at all, don’t hesitate to call your doctor.

Dana G. Smith is a Times reporter covering personal health, particularly aging and brain health.

More COVID on the Benicia Independent…


Doonesbury peeks inside Capitol Hill

[This Doonesbury cartoon puts a predictable and funny-sad twist on the COVID pandemic. I can’t vouch for Garry Trudeau’s 43%, but I found several studies (see below) that confirm his analysis. Enjoy (?) the cartoon… – BenIndy Contributor Roger Straw]

Doonesbury, by Garry Trudeau

Doonesbury, by Gary Trudeau, November 26, 2023

Two important scientific studies:

Journal of the American Medical Association: Excess Death Rates for Republican and Democratic Registered Voters in Florida and Ohio During the COVID-19 Pandemic, July 24, 2023.

“The differences in excess mortality by political party affiliation after COVID-19 vaccines were available to all adults suggest that differences in vaccination attitudes and reported uptake between Republican and Democratic voters may have been a factor in the severity and trajectory of the pandemic in the US.”

Science Direct: The politics of COVID-19: Differences between U.S. red and blue states in COVID-19 regulations and deaths, November 11, 2023.

“CONCLUSION: …this work’s key conclusion is that mass-behavioral changes prescribed through legislation do provide mass-scale dividends in areas that promote these strategies. In highlighting the political divide between COVID-19 legislative and mitigation efforts, researchers do not intend to proselytize one ideology to another but to expand on the notion that differences between dominant political affiliations are equally relevant to consider. Diseases have demonstrated no partisan allegiance, past or present. The individual role of citizens is not without consequence, but to ultimately lessen the aversive effects of COVID-19 and other viral threats in the United States, it is necessary to behave collectively. Given the compelling evidence of mass-behavioral mitigation efforts being successful in pandemic remediation, further legislation should focus on best communicating and implementing these strategies across political landscapes. Focusing on effectively implementing mitigation strategies across ideologies should be paramount if communities are to address disease-based threats with minimal loss and aversive outcomes.”

More COVID on the Benicia Independent…


How to navigate renewed COVID threat in the Bay Area

Roger Straw

[Note from BenIndy Contributor Roger Straw: Well, it finally ALMOST happened. My wife and I have been ultra careful, and so far are among the increasingly rare few who have not contracted the coronavirus. Mary Susan is immune compromised, so we still wear masks in the grocery and other crowded indoors places. But we were seriously exposed when close family members tested positive a day or two after celebrating a birthday in our own home. They got on Paxlovid right away, and are fine, but only after a really miserable 2 weeks. We isolated and tested negative every other day for 10 days – and whew, still have not got the bug. Thank goodness we celebrated with windows wide open and seated widely spaced at the long dinner table. Please know that COVID is back, it’s around you, and it is no fun when you get it! And… it can be really serious, even long-lasting. Read on….]

How to navigate renewed COVID threat in the Bay Area

San Francisco Chronicle, by Aidin Vaziri, Aug. 22, 2023

Fans wait for Ethel Cain at the Sutro stage during the first day of the Outside Lands Music Festival on Aug. 11. As the Bay Area’s summer COVID-19 swell gains ground, outdoor venues remain a relatively safe environment, even without masks. | Jessica Christian/The Chronicle

UPDATERising COVID cases prompt Bay Area hospital to reinstate mask mandate

A local theater troupe cancels a weekend of performances because cast members have COVID. A Sunday luncheon is postponed because the hostess has fallen ill. A colleague catches the coronavirus on a trip back from Italy. The nearby Walgreens is sold out of home test kits.

There’s no mistaking that the SARS-CoV-2 virus is staging an unwanted comeback in the Bay Area. The uptick in COVID cases evokes memories of summers since 2020. Official figures, though early, back up the anecdotes: The state’s test positivity rate has climbed to 11.8%, its highest level since the beginning of the year, and hospitalizations are up more than 63% in the last month, from a seven-day average of 163 admissions per day in mid-July to 266 per day last week.

Nationally, there were 12,613 new COVID-19 hospitalizations for the week ending Aug. 12, according to data released Monday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This figure reflects a 21.6% rise compared to the preceding week. Deaths due to COVID-19, a lagging indicator, are also starting to pick up nationwide, with an 8.3% increase over the same period.

While many cases result in mild symptoms, especially for those who’ve been vaccinated or previously battled the virus, COVID’s disruption to work and life is still undeniable. Plus, some evidence suggests that each subsequent bout of the virus may raise the risk of experiencing a persistent state of exhaustion, brain fog, or other symptoms known as long COVID.

Despite the resurgence, a sense of “pandemic fatigue” pervades the population, prompting many people to resume normal activities and overlook the threat, especially if their risk of severe illness is low. Restaurants, movie theaters, concert venues and airplanes are now packed with crowds of almost entirely unmasked people who roll the dice and hope for the best.

But what if you’re not among those willing to wager on chance, either due to underlying health conditions or general concern about adverse outcomes? As the summer swell gains momentum, here is a refresher on the latest expert advice to navigate uncertain times.

When to consider vaccinations and boosters

Throughout 2023, the dominant strains of the coronavirus nationwide and in the Bay Area have been descendants of the omicron family of SARS-CoV-2. The currently available vaccines and boosters were tailored to combat both the original 2020 coronavirus strain and a 2022 omicron derivative, so they offer somewhat diminished protection against the current variants. Yet they still afford greater protection than no vaccination at all. Updated vaccines geared toward more recent variants are set to roll out in late September or early October.

When to consider a booster:

  • Higher-risk individuals: People at higher risk of severe illness, including those with health conditions such as obesity or diabetes, individuals age 65 and above, or those with compromised immune systems due to underlying immunological problems or cancer treatments, should get a booster shot every six months. Some vulnerable people might consider a shot now if it’s been more than four months since their last.
  • General population: If you are in good health, under 65, and have received a vaccine or battled COVID within the past six months, the best option is likely to wait until the fall for the updated booster. Even if it has been more than six months, you might want to hold out for the new booster because it’s better tuned to fighting off current variants.

Masking calculus

Few topics have sparked more debate than masking, with arguments ranging from its efficacy to ideological objections to mandates. Yet the evidence remains clear: Consistent masking has been shown to be an accessible and effective means to reduce transmission, whether you’re at risk of unknowingly spreading the virus or of contracting it.

For those looking for more protection in the current environment, situations where a tight-fitting quality N95 or KN95 mask can be beneficial include:

  • Public transportation.
  • Airport waiting lounges and during aircraft boarding and taxiing.
  • Crowded indoor spaces where people are singing or shouting.
  • Bustling restaurants before and after meals.

Scenarios that may not warrant the same level of precaution include:

  • Walking or hiking outdoors.
  • Open-air concerts or sporting events.
  • Alfresco dining or social interactions.

Navigating social situations and testing

Although there are no definitive rules for safe or unsafe behavior in more intimate social settings, a combination of thoughtfulness and common courtesy can guide most interactions.

  • Home test kits, while still able to detect the latest coronavirus strains, are not as reliable as they were in the past. A positive home test remains a clear indication of COVID, and there’s no need to confirm the diagnosis with an official lab test unless it’s required for work absences or other reasons.
  • A greater concern is the potential for “false negatives” from home tests during the early stages of infection. If you suspect you may be ill and are worried about meeting other people, multiple tests over successive days should clear up any doubt.
  • If you need to have more certainty for some reason, many pharmacies and health providers still provide a polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, laboratory test, which is considered the gold standard. Payment is dependent on insurance carriers, and out-of-pocket testing can cost upward of $100.
  • When visiting at-risk friends or family members, wearing a mask requires minimal effort and can safeguard your loved ones. If you have any reason to suspect you may be sick or have been exposed to the virus, taking a home COVID test before meeting affords a quick — if imperfect — screen.
  • For hospital or nursing home visits, an over-the-counter test ahead of time and masking can help protect vulnerable populations, as well as yourself.

What should you do if you are exposed or infected?

  • In case of exposure: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a practical risk calculator for determining post-exposure actions following contact with someone who has COVID-19. The first step: Put on a mask to protect others for 10 days, watch for symptoms such as fever, and test yourself on Day 6. If you’re negative, keep masking until Day 10, and then you can stop.
  • If you are infected: In the event of a positive test or development of symptoms, the CDC advises immediate isolation. Wear a high-quality mask if you must be around others. The most infectious period usually spans the first five days after testing positive.
  • When to seek emergency treatment: If you have trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, feel disoriented, unable to wake or stay awake, or experience a change in skin tone, call 911 or your local emergency department.
  • When to end isolation: Those who show no symptoms can end isolation after five days, the CDC says. But if you do have symptoms, you should continue to isolate until you are fever-free for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication.If you had moderate (difficulty breathing) or severe (requiring hospitalization) symptoms, you should isolate through Day 10. Wear a mask until you have two sequential negative test results 48 hours apart.
  • Treatments and medications: For those experiencing mild illness, the CDC advises home recovery, with over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) to help manage symptoms.A Food and Drug Administration-approved antiviral drug, Paxlovid, can effectively treat mild to moderate COVID-19 in individuals who are at greater risk, but treatment must be started within days of symptom onset. Preliminary research also suggests Paxlovid can reduce the risk of developing long COVID.

More COVID on the Benicia Independent…