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COVID cases likely much higher due to at-home testing, but experts say severity is low

One health expert said the numbers are misleading.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California is averaging 22,000 COVID cases per day, but epidemiologists predict it could be much higher than that with so many people testing at home or not testing at all. 

COVID is still here, but a New York Times poll last week had less than 1% of voters list it as a top priority. As to whether or not people should be concerned, it depends on who you ask. 

“I'm tired of the pandemic," said John Swartzberg, professor with the UC Berkeley School of Public Health. "I’ve had it up to here with the pandemic, just like everybody else.”

However, he said people also have to look beyond the numbers to understand just how fast COVID is spreading. 

“I think a good way to know how many people are getting sick right now is to just ask yourself, do you know anybody with COVID right now?" he said. "Already this morning, I've talked two friends, so it's pretty prevalent right now.”

Cases and hospitalizations are rising in California but not deaths. 

“If you're looking for some good news, in this stage of the pandemic, that's where the good news is," Swartzberg said. "It's relative good news. By that, I mean the number of people dying in the United States now are 300 to 350 people a day, but multiply that by 365 days and you're getting big numbers. The leading causes of death in the United States. So this is a serious problem.”

University of Southern California Public Health Professor Jeffrey Klausner said it’s hard to trust the death count. 

“What's most concerning however, to me, is the hospitalization data," Klausner said. "There was actually a report that came out on Friday from a Los Angeles County hospital where they have 24 people in the hospital that tested positive, but none were actually there for pneumonia or COVID symptoms. So our hospital data are very inaccurate, and that also means that our mortality or death data is not accurate as well.”

Should people be alarmed looking at the testing numbers?

“It's become very rare for people who test positive to end up in the hospital to end up with severe COVID, critical COVID or end up in the Intensive Care Unit, or die." Klausner said. "That's because the majority of population has either either recovered from prior infection or have been vaccinated, so they have some degree of immunity, and that immunity is very good at protecting people against severe outcomes.”

Swartzberg said it's about more than who ends up in the hospital. 

“I am concerned that there are a lot of people who are going to wind up getting a cold or flu like symptoms, but unfortunately get long COVID," Swartzberg said. "We don't know what that's gonna mean for the next year, two years, with the rest of their lives.”

Both added that people with increased risk, like cancer patients, should be more concerned.

"Those people certainly are at increased risk," Klausner said. "Although, if they've been vaccinated or recovered, their risk is also much lower."

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Endemic: How Gov. Newsom will prepare California for COVID-19 in every day life

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