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Californias top health official: 4 things weve learned since start of COVID-19 – SF Gate

When COVID-19 was first identified in Wuhan, China, in late December 2019, the virus was a mystery and the medical world had endless questions.

Nearly a year later, many questions remain, but we know a lot more about the coronavirus, and in a press briefing Thursday California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly emphasized our current knowledge can help stop the state’s surge, as California has seen new cases double in the past two weeks.

Our understanding of the science is leading the way in the state’s decisions to develop a tier system and impose a curfew in those counties with the most severe cases, Ghaly explained.

“We’ve learned a lot,” Ghaly said. “We’ve been a state that has been guided by data, and in that science is a great amount of learning and refining our thinking, focusing our thinking, focusing in on our interventions in a way that allows us to be more targeted and do things not in all tiers, not statewide, and not 24 hours all day.”

Ghaly said that since March when the state issued a stay-at-home order, we have learned four key things that will help us curb a pandemic catastrophe in coming months.

1) Masks not only protect those around you, but the evidence is clear that they protect you, too.

At the start of the virus, the main message was that masks can help protect others, but the latest research shows face coverings likely also reduce the wearer’s risk of falling seriously ill from COVID as the material blocks some of the virus-carrying droplets you inhale. “The more virus you get into your body, the more sick you are likely to get,” said UCSF infectious disease specialist Monica Gandhi, who co-wrote a paper on the effects of mask-wearing.

2) Moving things outdoors significantly reduces the risk of exposure and transmission.

“We’ve mentioned it for many months, move things outside, keeping it short, both of those things helps us reduce transmission,” said Ghaly. “The whole concept of ventilation, about bringing outdoors airs indoors, even in canopied areas outdoors, making sure we have clear and easy ventilation as an important feature to reduce transmission. We’ve learned that squarely, not necessarily in March and April but really over the past couple of months.”

3) Even those who do not have symptoms and look perfectly well are spreading the virus.

Ghaly said that early on in the virus’s spread, the medical community wasn’t aware of what’s known as asymptomatic spread — that is, even those who don’t have symptoms could be infected and spreading the virus.

“You’ve heard about asymptomatic spread, you’ve heard about people who are presymptomatic spreading the virus,” said Ghaly. “This is a very important feature, an unusual feature of a virus, and makes it harder for us manage and track. Part of the reasons why we must take early actions, we must take actions, that even if the impact is seemingly invisible to some because folks aren’t sick who they’re around, this fact is a very critical one that pushes us to take these actions now.”

4) Roughly 12% of today’s cases will be hospitalized in two weeks.

The fact that hospitalizations lag behind cases is an important fact to note now in California as cases surge, but hospital beds remain relatively plentiful. Ghaly has repeatedly pointed out that some of these newly infected people will soon land in the hospital and the potential for the health care system to be overwhelmed is real.

“Since early July, we’ve been tracking this and although in some parts of the state, it’s as low as 6 or 7%, other parts it’s closer to 15 to 20%. On average 12% of our cases will be hospitalized in two to three weeks. What does that tell you? It helps you plan, based on what you’re dealing with today today in hospitals, today’s cases, what the next two to three weeks look like. And that helps us make decisions now, so we can avoid some of those big surges in the hospital beds and the potential for not having the capacity that we’ve depended on to date.”

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