Covid-19 cases have jumped in San Diego County from less than 5,000 a week at the beginning of December to 45 thousand the past week. About 840 people are in the hospital, nearly triple the 303 patients from a month ago.
Pauline Lucatero is on a mission to keep coronavirus patients out of the hospital. The nursing director for Family Health Centers of San Diego (FHCSD) has been treating patients for free with monoclonal antibody infusion treatments.
"The patients that we are seeing right now are definitely sick. They are experiencing mild to moderate symptoms. We're doing our best to keep them out of the hospitals but patients are coming in sicker I feel," Lucatero shares.
The treatment, which takes about two hours, can only be given to patients within ten days of Covid-19 symptoms. "Monoclonal antibodies is a one time infusion given via IV or injections and it's essentially proteins that help fight the virus... Truly, it has been effective in reducing hospitalizations 80 to 85%," Lucatero says.
The treatment has emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration. FHCSD gave its first monoclonal antibody infusion treatment on December 31st of 2020 and since then, they’ve managed to treat 3,000 patients. While the number of infections are surging due to the scarcity of the medications and manpower, Lucatero is limited to less than 200 patients per week at the two FHCSD clinics that she runs.
"Right now, the criteria has to become very strict because of our limited supply. Anybody above 12 in the beginning of the pandemic, we were able to treat without any underlying health conditions. With the surge, it's been a lot more challenging because we’re having to decide who is the highest risk for hospitalization and have the highest risk of dying, and trying to figure out who’s deciding who those patients are."
One of Lucatero’s most recent patients is JoAnn Fields, who spearheads San Diego’s Filipino Covid-19 Task Force. Despite being vaccinated and boosted, Fields still tested positive for Covid-19 just a few weeks ago as she was volunteering to administer Covid tests to community members.
"At first I was 'why me?' But then 'why not me?' Because I’m all about education, about testing. I feel strongly about getting vaccinated and boosted but the very least you can do to save yourself, your family, your community is to get tested. Get tested and know your status," Fields stresses.
With the previous health conditions qualifying her, Fields underwent the treatment, which took about 30 minutes of IV and an additional hour for observation. Now, she's ready to head home.
Regaining her health from the treatment, Fields says she's even more inspired to continue her work with the Filipino COVID-19 Task Force, from giving out free testing to organizing vaccination drives. But now she has an extra advocacy: finding ways to work with lawmakers and businesses in bringing more of monoclonal antibody infusion treatment to her community.