The UCSB Economic Forecast Project, hosted by Dr. Peter Rupert, held another webinar on Thursday, with a big focus on the latest science regarding the novel coronavirus.
Dr. Lynn Fitzgibbons, an infectious disease expert from Cottage Health, was invited to speak at the webinar and provided plenty of insight on COVID-19 data and how people are critically analyzing it.
“Data remains critically important now and it’s going to really inform both population level, as well as individual level decisions, I think for the long term with regards to this,” Dr. Fitzgibbons said.
She said that looking at just case count numbers is not an effective way to view the virus. The reason being is that every county, every city even, is administering tests to different people.
A more objective metric, according to Dr. Fitzgibbons, would be looking at hospitalizations. And, even more objective, would be deaths.
“We are delayed perhaps by two weeks or three weeks (with hospitalizations). And then, of course, if we’re following deaths, tragically that may be the most objective metric of all, and indeed probably is, that of course is a very, very late metric that is far too down the road for our health officials,” Dr. Fitzgibbons said.
Despite this, she said that hospitalizations are her preferred metric to analyze this pandemic.
“I like to think that hospitalization data, while it is certainly delayed from an index event, is really perhaps the most accurate and closest to real time metric that we have, that is objective and reliable and reflective of our community’s condition,” Dr. Fitzgibbons said.
Looking at Santa Barbara County data, she said that both hospitalizations and Intensive Care Unit numbers rose during June and July, both of which may soon plateau.
“I think that I’m now seeing some signal that a plateau may be underway at least looking at… the hospitalization data,” Dr. Fitzgibbons said.
While those are possibly stabilizing, she added that we are seeing the effects of the spike on the county’s current death count.
In the month of July, Santa Barbara County announced 28 deaths. Currently the county has reported 69 deaths.
“We are now feeling the true effect of that in our day-over-day, week-over-week number of deaths here in our state,” Dr. Fitzgibbons said.
She also discussed the quarantine period someone is put in after finding out they are COVID-19 positive.
People who are positive, on average, feel symptoms within five days of contracting the virus, however, “the likelihood of getting infectious virus from someone declines after symptoms begin.”
As studies have continued, doctors have noticed that people who have mild or no symptoms have no more infectious virus, or virus they will pass to others, after 10 days.
In patients who have to go to the hospital, their infectious virus runs about 15 to 18 days.
An important note, however, is that even if these people have no more infectious virus after 20 days, they can still have the RNA from the virus for up to 12 weeks and test PCR (polymerase chain reaction) positive.
“The PCR in these patients who have recovered can remain persistently or intermittently positive. And just to corroborate this, there was a study that looked at 285 people who were persistently positive, many weeks out they were still positive and 126 of them are actually in that category we’ve heard anecdotes about where people thought well they’ve been reinfected they have it again, they have more symptoms and they’re PCR positive,” Dr. Fitzgibbons said.
“What they found was there wasn’t a single new infection amongst these people who were persistently positive weeks out again, just emphasizing this idea that even if people are PCR positive weeks after they have this virus, they do not seem to be infectious.”
This is why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention no longer recommends retesting people 10 to 14 days after infection because “they’re no longer infectious, but they may still have a positive PCR.”
There are also no new studies showing how long antibodies last nor their effectiveness, which is why those tests are not recommended.
“While it may be interesting for them or their physician, it should not dictate whether or not that person is, for example, put in a frontline position and exposed to the public or not,” Dr. Fitzgibbons said.
“I will just emphasize that for most people with COVID-19 illness, isolation and precautions can generally be discontinued 10 days after symptom onset with resolution of fever for 24 hours and improvement of their other symptoms.”
Additionally, she shared a new study that had just come out Thursday, which discussed whether or not people who were asymptomatic could spread the disease.
According to the data, both those who had symptoms and those who did not had the same amount of viral load that could be spread.
As a result they would still be “highly infectious.”
That’s where masks come in and help possibly curb that spread.
Dr. Fitzgibbons cited a local case study about two Missouri hairdressers who were infected with COVID-19 and, over an eight-day period, interacted with 139 customers.
“Of these 139 client, there were no transmissions, and so the authors of the article from the (CDC) proposed that a universal face covering clearly made a difference,” Dr. Fitzgibbons said.