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Dr. Kaiser discusses county’s first flu death & coronavirus concerns

Riverside County recently confirmed its first flu death of the season and there is growing concern that both the flu and coronavirus could create a new hospital surge.

The county's health officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser told News Channel 3's Peter Daut that it is unusual to have a flu death this early in the year.

The man who died was in his 80's from the San Jacinto Valley.

Peter asked Kaiser for more on the death and whether he is anticipates more cases of the flu compared to last year?

"It's going to be hard to say what this means for this year's flu season, but it's not a good start to have a death this early. We want people to keep in mind the same things that are going to protect you from COVID-19 which is face coverings, social distancing, and making sure you avoid gatherings, pretty much works for other kinds of communicable diseases too, including the flu. We really don't want a situation where our hospitals happen to get hit by the double whammy of both of those occurring at once," Kaiser said.

Kaiser said it is unusual to have a flu-death so early in year.

"It makes me wonder how much of the flu is already circulating around. A lot has been said about people with COVID-19 may not have symptoms yet, but it turns out there is also a fair amount of asymptomatic spread with the flu as well. Some people just don't get as sick as other people. And what this may mean is that this year's flu is already starting to strike in certain portions of Riverside County and people need to be aware of that possibility," Kaiser said.

Peter then asked Kaiser about the concern that with both the flu and coronavirus could cause hospitals to overflow again and what's being done to address this.

"Well, the first thing is that we work regularly with our hospitals to make sure they can handle that demand. What you're talking about essentially is a surge. Unfortunately, during July we had that surge with COVID-19. We don't want to see something similar occurring in the same time in the fall. The hospitals do have plans in place for dealing with this. Infectious control is part of their bread and butter and they do a very good job with that. We're also trying to do in the community that people do get their flu shot, the new formulation should be arriving at doctors officers, we want to make sure that people do those necessary things to help prevent transmission, making sure you have a facial covering. Social distancing and avoiding gatherings works for all kinds of communicable diseases, not just COVID-19. And then to make sure also people are aware of risk factors and people who are particularly medically vulnerable, make sure they prioritize getting those preventive measures in place," Kaiser said.

Peter and Kaiser then discussed the state's new a color-coded tier system for reopening businesses and activities. This came a week after the County CEO sent a letter to the state outlining their own plan for reopening after Labor Day. Kaiser said he does not know how the state responded to the letter.

"I don't know any of the details onto what the state responded to as far as county recommendations, I'd have to defer that to our executive office. As far as what's going on right now, we want people to be advised we want things to reopen safely, we don't want a repeat of what happened in July. We want to make sure our businesses and our county residents get back to work, we want to make sure its done in a safe fashion, and I'm hopeful with the plans in place and recommendations made that we'll continue to see improvements on our numbers that we're able to do so," Kaiser said.

The interview then went to the topic of herd immunity.

"I think herd immunity really only becomes relevant when there's a vaccine out there. If we're sitting there trying to depend on people's ability to build natural immunity themselves, I think we've seen even though people with COVID-19 will survive, with the number of people that have died so far, it will still require a lot more deaths for enough people in our population to have gotten COVID-19 and be reliably immune whatever that actually means. We still don't have a good idea of what it actually means to be immune to COVID-19. We don't know how long it will actually last. Because of that, I don't think it's realistic to say that we can depend on herd immunity just simply by allowing infections to spread unchecked in our populations, because I think that would just end up with more impact on our hospitals, unfortunately, more individuals who would succumb to the infection, and we may not find at the end that we are substantially more immune when it's actually all over," Kaiser said.

Peter asked Kaiser about the status of COVID-19 in nursing homes. Early in the pandemic, there was a lot of focus on the spread at nursing homes. Kaiser said the county has seen improvements with preventing COVID-19 spread.

"We certainly have, with things like our skilled nursing support system, we sent people out to make sure they have good plans in place, we have staff to educate on what the right things to do are, and make sure they have sufficient equipment to keep staff and residents safe alike. Yes, we are very concerned about those populations it can spread very easily with people who are highly medically vulnerable. We've responded to that quickly, we put those plans in place very fast. I think we've been successful in doing so, we have substantially improved the ability of our skilled nursing facilities, our long term care facilities to care for people and keep COVID-19 out of those facilities, and we haven't had any substantial outbreaks in a while," Kaiser said.

To end the interview, Kaiser answered a question about local shortages of Remdesivir for patients in the county.

"Initially we did have issues with Remdesivir shortage, but now we're in a situation where we have so much of it that none of the hospitals are buying up their allocations. Part of that is of course the hospitalization numbers have gone down and they don't need as much anymore. Still, we want to make sure people are prepared for the fall, I know hospitals are trying to get their emergency rooms in order, making sure they have sufficient bed capacity and making sure their physicians and ancillary personnel are ready for it. In the meantime, we at the county are making sure folks know where they can get their flu shots, give people the best advice out there, continue to make recommendations on reducing infection, and just making sure we don't get hit with both of these things at the same time at a time of the year when we can least afford it," Kaiser said.

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Peter Daut

KESQ News Team

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