Two doctors and an infection control expert from Emanate Health on Friday, Jan. 7, played host to an “Ask the Doctor” virtual town hall to discuss the coronavirus in general, with much focus on its recent uptick from the omicron variant.
Many elements were covered, and questions were asked by the public and answered by Chief Medical Officer Gurjeet Kalkat, MD; Deepthi Jayasekara, MD; and Loucine Kasparian, director of the infection control department.
Emanate Health owns three San Gabriel Valley hospitals — Queen of the Valley in West Covina, Inter-Community in Covina and Foothill Presbyterian in Glendora.
One of the burning questions came from a woman who wanted to know about getting vaccinated before becoming pregnant, during pregnancy as well as what happens if one catches the virus while pregnant.
“Vaccines and pregnancy, that’s a burning question that a lot of people have,” Dr. Jayasekara said. “Multiple, multiple studies have shown that they are safe in pregnant bodies. But if you can avoid the first trimester, do that.”
He also said there is no scientific evidence showing getting the vaccine will mess up one’s reproductive system, even though there are misconceptions in that regard.
“So, yes, you should get the vaccine because you should protect yourself,” Dr. Jayasekara said.
He did say that if a woman gets COVID-19 while pregnant, there could be issues.
“There’s a higher risk of fetal harm, premature delivery and so on and so forth,” Dr. Jayasekara said.
Another poignant question was about how safe indoor interaction with others is under the current conditions, keeping in mind that the omicron variant is the most contagious variant to date, with many in the medical field believing it might be at least as contagious as the measles, according to Friday’s panel (evidence suggests, however, that the variant’s symptoms are not as severe as those of its predecessor).
“Indoor activity in this situation is discouraged without a layer of protection because as I’ve mentioned, it’s a very contagious virus,” Dr. Jayasekara, an infectious disease expert, said. “So that’s why I think the CDPH and the CDC all recommend to wear a proper mask for indoor activities when you are with multiple people because there is no way to tell this person is positive, this person is negative without testing.”
He noted how long testing lines are at the moment.
“So the best thing to do is what we call the swiss knife approach — it has to be a multi-disciplinary approach,” Dr. Jayasekara said. “Masks are very, very important and also other public health guidelines to prevent disease.”
Another inquiry focused on testing sites.
“Every health department has the testing sites on their website,” Kasparian said. “I know ‘My Turn’ is for vaccinations. But … if you go to L.A. County Health Department and you search for testing, you will have a list of locations for testing. And it’s so many at this point.”
Dr. Kalkat noted that only 51% of Latino residents are fully vaccinated in L.A. County, 42% are not vaccinated at all with the rest only partially vaccinated; 50% of Black people are fully vaccinated, 45% not at all with 5% partially vaccinated. White peoples in the county are 69% fully vaccinated.
He went on to say that about 90% of COVID-19-infected people currently in Emanate’s three hospitals are not fully vaccinated.
“We have a few who have been vaccinated, but not gotten their booster,” Dr. Kalkat said.
He did say, however, that there are silver linings amid the worries of the winter spike.
“The intensive care unit utilization is much lower than last December,” he said. “Last December, approximately 50% of the patients who were coming in and getting admitted ended up in the intensive care units and about 30 of them were on ventilators.”
As of 7 a.m. Friday, there were 99 COVID-19 patients combined in isolation in Emanate’s three area hospitals with 10 intubated. Only 12 of those 99 are fully vaccinated.
Kasparian noted the biggest difference in the omicron surge as opposed to others: “The peak this time includes a majority of outpatients when we compare it to last year’s winter, which included inpatients who stayed for a very, very long time with severe illness,” she said.
As for pediatric cases, Kasparian said there are definitely more of those with omicron.
“Delta was not interested in pediatric patients, and we hadn’t been seeing a lot of pediatrics,” she said. “The story is so different when it comes to omicron. Suddenly we have been seeing to our emergency rooms increasing number of pediatric patients.
“Just in on week we jumped to 78 total pediatric patients, when we were averaging anywhere between two to four to five patients for six, seven weeks prior to that.”
As for seniors, Dr. Kalkat said that as with the other variants, omicron hits them harder than younger people.
“In general — omicron or delta — all these virus infections are much more severe in the elderly,” he said. “Fortunately in our communities, 85% of the seniors have two vaccines and many of them had boosters, so we are not seeing what we saw last winter.
“But clearly omircon does hit seniors harder than the younger folks. But again, fortunately omicron is a milder version.”