California has led the nation in September when it comes to slowing the spread of COVID-19.
The state is seeing some of the lowest rates of community transmission in the nation. It is the only state where transmission is ranked "moderate" by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and it has had the lowest number of new cases per capita over the past week.
Around 59% of Californians are now fully vaccinated, above the national rate of 55% but still below 14 other states.
But some health experts warn that another winter surge could be right around the corner. CapRadio's Randol White spoke with Dr. Erica Pan, the state epidemiologist and deputy director of the California Department of Public Health Center for Infectious Diseases, about California's current COVID-19 situation and what the future might hold.
Do you feel optimistic about where the state's headed with this pandemic?
I do. I'm really proud of where we are as a state, and I'm really proud of Californians for coming together to really support public health interventions. And I do think they've made a difference, as illustrated by what you mentioned, about us having the lowest case rates in the nation. I think the one thing I learned about this pandemic is that ... It's hard to predict what's going to happen next, but we have to be flexible.
What do you attribute to California's success to this point?
We absolutely have some of the highest vaccination rates in the country, which we're also very proud of. But I think also when you compare, there are some large states that have vaccination rates that aren't that different, that may not be, for example, embracing mask mandates. So I do think, you know, it really, truly continues to be the layers of public health mitigation. So vaccination is the best tool we have and the long term tool we have. But in the meantime, I think really embracing these public health mitigation measures has made a difference for California.
You touched on vaccinations there, and booster shots are now available for some people in California. What's the hope in your office when it comes to booster rates?
Well our most important, just to start with the most important, is to get the unvaccinated vaccinated. As far as boosters, you know, really what we're looking at there is people 65 years or older, people who are in long-term care facilities and others who are over 50 who do have underlying medical conditions, and certainly, our communities of color have been impacted more severely during this entire pandemic.
The World Health Organization has stated that initially, vaccination shots need to be distributed globally before some countries, including the U.S., move forward with boosters. What are your thoughts on global equity when it comes to this?
That's a great question. And I know this is a tough dilemma, I think, for everyone. And I am really happy that our country has also made a lot of strides in donating vaccines to other countries and to committing to more manufacturing because it is absolutely true that until we get the world vaccinated, we're still going to see if we see transmission elsewhere. That's when this virus will develop variants, for example, that could potentially not respond as well to vaccines or treatments. So it is really important globally. On the other hand, in order to drive transmission down in our own country, we need to continue to vaccinate and move forward as well.
Last winter, we saw the greatest uptick in COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began. Of course, the start of that surge happened prior to widespread vaccinations. What are you predicting for this coming winter?
The real wild card this year is flu. So last year with our masking and with people really staying largely at home, we didn't see flu at all. But now that people really are more out and about and interacting... we are concerned that we could see flu this year as well. And that often stresses our health care system on its own. So if we do see the two together, that could be concerning this winter.
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