UCSF doctors say focus should be on COVID hospitalizations and deaths, not case count

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- New data this week from the CDC shows Florida has a lower transmission rate than California. Florida currently is in the moderate yellow level, while California is in the orange substantial level.

However, doctors at UCSF say, at this point in the pandemic, we need to look at the data differently. They say we need to focus more on hospitalizations as the key metric.

"We have to think about what our goal is," said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, infectious disease specialist at UCSF. "Of course if we look at infections, it is going to look weird with spikes here, spikes there. If we look at deaths and hospitalizations, that is the real cost to society."

Especially now with vaccines available -- COVID-19 cases may not go away anytime soon, but the main focus is keeping people from getting sick and potentially dying.

"We are not going to be able to eradicate cases of this virus," said Dr. Monica Ghandi at UCSF. "What is important to track is what impacts public health and impacts people's lives... which is getting sick."

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Both doctors think part of the reason Florida is experiencing low transmission rates now is due to the state's past history with the virus. Florida has seen very high transmission rates throughout the pandemic, and now, there is potentially a mix of residents who recovered from the virus and are also vaccinated.

"There is no question natural immunity is playing a role here," Ghandi said. "And it is not just the cases they had before, but what has happened since they got the vaccines. When delta surged, we in California implemented mandates. Florida did not. A lot of people got infected and those who had been vaccinated now have more natural immunity."

However, in terms of overall deaths, California has done better than Florida. The latest CDC statistics show Florida's overall death rate is the eighth worst in the country - 54% higher than California's. Going forward, the doctors would like us to shift our focus on the statistics that impact public health.

"If we don't refocus with an endemic virus, we will always be chasing cases," Ghandi said. "And we will be spending a lot of public health resource dollars instead of protecting people from illness."

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