DPHSS: 'Nature is playing catch-up'

BRIEFING LAWMAKERS: Department of Public Health and Social Services interim chief medical officer Dr. Robert Leon Guerrero is seen March 30, 2022, testifying before senators. Post file photo

There was an uptick in COVID-19 cases reported to the Guam Department of Public Health and Social Services from Oct. 4 through Oct. 31, as the 7-day rolling average of positive cases has risen above 10 per day once again.

Guam territorial epidemiologist Ann Pobutsky noted that for almost a month, the island was recording less than 10 cases a day prior to the recent spike.

“These are COVID-19 cases, so the positivity rate has increased, it’s spiked here. It’s not above our surge level, but we are seeing an uptick in cases. The hospitalization count remains below surge level, so does the Intensive Care Unit,” Pobutsky said.

Two late reports of COVID-19-related deaths were included in the latest briefing from public health officials Thursday, but Pobutsky stressed there have been no recent deaths during the time period covered.

“By age, we saw these spikes in the elderly and then that went down and now that’s gone up again. Teenagers have gone up and the 40-59 group seems to be the culprit this time, the working group population, and most cases are asymptomatic,” Pobutsky said. "We are also seeing a continued spike in pediatric admissions at the hospital. That is concerning."

Dr. Robert Leon Guerrero, interim chief medical officer at DPHSS, explained that COVID-19 cases seen in youth have increased in severity.

"The severity to kids seems to be increasing, whereas in the early part of COVID-19, kids were either mild or no symptoms at all in the past. I'd say, past six months, we've had 25 admissions for COVID-19 bronchiolitis. And then, of course, we had those deaths couple months ago. So we are still seeing COVID-19, and the COVID-19 that we are seeing seems to make the kids a little bit sicker than previously. The last several years since 2019 to about 2022, we hardly saw any children admitted except for those three kids ... back in 2020. We're now seeing a little bit more,” Leon Guerrero said.

Pediatric admissions to the hospital have not been limited to COVID-19 cases. Health officials continue to see children admitted for other respiratory illnesses.

With the holiday season here, health officials noted cases could continue to rise.

“I think this is going to be our new normal, especially this time of the year, this is respiratory illness season,” Leon Guerrero said.

Prior to COVID-19, the holiday season coincided with increased respiratory illnesses including influenza and RSV.

“They both look alike, there’s no way to know the difference except by testing. With the COVID-19 hitting us in 2019 for children anyway, our respiratory season was almost nonexistent,” he said.

'More daring'

Health officials reiterated past statements to stress that health safety measures for COVID-19, such as utilizing a mask in public, washing hands and social distancing, played key parts in the other respiratory illnesses only now reemerging in the community.

“It wasn’t until this past year 2022, that we saw more cases of COVID-19, … like I said the past five months we had 25 admissions for COVID-19 bronchiolitis and, again, we had those two DOAs, so it appears that the COVID-19 now is a little more of a problem for children now, not as much, but still a little bit more,” Leon Guerrero said.

He pointed to the other respiratory illnesses in the community now, in addition to COVID-19, as a cause for the increased susceptibility of children to the coronavirus.

“I think we had a total of about nine or 10 respiratory viruses and normally we only have three or four during this month of September,” he said.

The other contributing factor — “people are becoming more daring,” Leon Guerrero said.

“They are not practicing social distances and wearing masks, so I think the message should be that, especially since it's starting to creep up, please because we are not seeing a whole lot of kids getting immunized,” he continued.

“Even though the cases were going down, we were seeing more kids in the hospitals with COVID-19. I would strongly recommend that for kids 6 months and above get their COVID-19 shot, flu shot.”

He also suggested not allowing sick individuals to visit homes with children, or if sick, wearing a mask.

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