In the year 2022, oral antiviral COVID treatments became widely available for the first time, but deaths from the virus still occurred about once every two days in Oakland.
The Alameda County Coroner’s Bureau recorded 186 deaths last year in Oakland that were caused by COVID-19.
The coroner’s bureau determined the count by referring to death certificates where COVID was listed as an immediate or underlying cause of death. The 2022 COVID death count showed a decrease from 2021, which saw 314 such deaths, and was Oakland’s deadliest year for the virus.
The decrease comes as COVID-19 vaccines and boosters have become increasingly available. Data from the 2021 coroner’s count show that as vaccines became available to more people, deaths related to COVID-19 became less common. The vast majority of 2021’s COVID-19 deaths occurred before the vaccine was available for most Californians in April of that year. In September of 2022, a bivalent booster shot became available that targets Omicron variants of the virus, but less than 15% of US citizens had taken it by December.
Starting last year, antiviral oral anti-COVID treatments became widely available for the first time. In an interview, Dr Noha Aboelata, an Oakland based family physician and founder of Roots Community Health Center, expressed concern that COVID-19 deaths are still common in Oakland despite the increased availability of treatment.
“The thing that’s worrying is we’re still having deaths even though we now have COVID-19 treatment that reduces death significantly,” said Dr Aboelata. “Every other day someone died of COVID in the city of Oakland last year.”
On December 22, 2021 the FDA authorized the use of the first oral antiviral COVID treatment, which is distributed under the brand name Paxlovid. Studies have shown Paxlovid to significantly reduce the risk of developing severe COVID-19 and death both for vaccinated and unvaccinated people. One study from last year showed that out of 146,256 people who were over age 50 and took Paxlovid within five days of testing positive for COVID-19, only 18 died. Ultimately, the study showed those who took Paxlovid were four times less likely to die of COVID-19 than those who did not. In March of 2022, President Joe Biden launched a program allowing those who test positive for COVID-19 to receive antiviral oral treatment for free.
According to the California Department of Public Health, antiviral COVID-19 treatments, including Paxlovid, are available to those who are 12 years of age or older and meet a wide range of criteria that could put them at risk for worsening symptoms. These include but are not limited to being 50 years of age or older, being unvaccinated, and/or having any of the following health conditions: high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, physical inactivity, smoking (past or present), asthma, and mental health conditions like depression.
Since antiviral COVID treatments must be taken within five days of developing COVID-19 symptoms in order to be effective, Dr Aboelata recommends people plan ahead in case they get the virus.
“My advice is to get a doctor before you need one,” she said. “You need to have a relationship with someone before you get sick. Then make a [COVID-19] plan with them because with antivirals, you want to nip it in the bud as soon as you can.”
Public health experts have said that antiviral COVID treatments are going unused across California and the USA due to doctors, who are sometimes uneducated about their benefits, being reluctant to prescribe them. One report from four public health policy experts from June of last year suggested that access to COVID-19 treatments could be more difficult to obtain for people who are Black, Latinx, and/or Indigenous.
“If someone dies from COVID 19 these days we need to be asking why,” said Dr Aboelata. “The antivirals are very effective.”
In Oakland, Black and Asian people likely died of COVID-19 in 2022 at a disproportionately high rate. While census data show Black people making up about 22% of Oakland’s population, they made up about 37.1% of the listed COVID deaths. While Asian people make up about 15.7% of Oakland’s population, they made up about 18.3% of COVID-19 deaths.
White and Latinx people appear to have made up a disproportionately low percentage of the 2022 COVID deaths. While census data show white people as making up about 33.4% of the population, they made up about 25.3% of last year’s COVID deaths. While Latinx people make up about 27.2% of Oakland’s population, they made up about 14.5% of last year’s COVID deaths.
As was common worldwide, old age made Oakland residents more susceptible to death from COVID-19. The coroner’s data show people over 80 made up about 45.7% of the 2022 COVID-19 deaths. Still, younger people made up a significant minority of COVID-19 deaths, as those under 50 made up about 5.4% of the deaths. One girl who was 15 years old died from the virus. Those 60 or under made up about 16.7% of the deaths. Those 70 or younger made up about 32.2% of the deaths. Those 75 and younger made up about 42.5% of the deaths.
It’s likely COVID-19 killed some of Oakland’s oldest residents in 2022, as seven people aged 100 or over died of the virus last year. The oldest person was a woman who died at age 105.
Notes: Slightly different versions of this story are scheduled to appear in The Oakland Post and The Post News Group’s website soon.