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South Coast health expert says failure to use available COVID-19 treatments causing needless deaths

Olga Kononenko
A health expert on the South Coast says there are needless COVID-19 deaths in the region because people aren't taking advantage of available therapeutics which can lessen the impacts of the virus.

Public Health official says once scarce therapeutics for higher risk people are now sitting on shelves, but people are waiting until it's too late to seek them out.

The latest COVID-19 surge continues to ease on the Central and South Coasts. As of Tuesday morning, indoor masking is no longer required in most places, except for public schools, hospitals, group homes, and public transportation.

But, public health officials say they are concerned, because some people in certain high-risk groups are continuing to die needlessly.

"We have therapeutics, and they are sitting on the shelf. We have people in the hospital, in ICU's, people dying, and therapeutics are sitting on the shelf," said Dr. Robert Levin, Ventura County’s Public Health Officer.

He says a few months ago, the issue was a shortage of therapeutics. There are drugs which could prevent the virus from becoming serious for those in high risk groups, or in other cases limit the impacts for those just diagnosed with it.

"There was a shortage," said Dr. Levin. "No question about it. There was a limited supply. But, between the decrease in cases we are seeing, and the increase in production, we now have enough drugs to meet the demand. But the demand is not there."

Dr. Levin says the frustrating thing now is that the treatments are readily available, but people aren’t stepping up in time to get help.

He says there is one very important drug for people with immune system issues. Evusheld is one you take now, before you are diagnosed with the virus. It can provide six months protection, and helps insure that a COVID-19 diagnosis doesn’t turn into an ICU stay, or even death.

Dr. Levin says there are three other therapeutics which can be very effective for those who are at higher risk if they’re started within the first few days after the onset of symptoms. The problem is Sotrovimab, Paxlovid, and Molnupiravir need to be started early in the illness, and by the time you end up in the hospital, it’s too late for them.

Some two years into the pandemic, we’ve had 307,000 diagnosed cases of the coronavirus in the Tri-Counties. The actual number of course is much higher, because of those who are asymptomatic, and those who test positive with home kits.

And, the region’s death toll moved past the 2,500 mark last month. There have been 1,425 COVID-19 related deaths in Ventura County, 649 in Santa Barbara County, and 448 in San Luis Obispo County.

But, Dr. Levin says the good news is the numbers are continuing to improve, as the surge eases. Hospitalizations and ICU stays are down, and he believes that the deaths will also drop during the next few weeks.