The number of confirmed cases of SARS-CoV-2 in the city of San Francisco has increased by an average of 49 per day in the last week as a direct result of expanded testing being offered, rising from 1,754 last Wednesday, May 6, to 1,954 as of Monday morning.
The uptick in new cases found comes as the rate of new COVID-19 diagnoses has slowed in Santa Clara County, which has been seen as the epicenter of the epidemic in the region. While San Francisco has been averaging 47 new cases per day since May 1, Santa Clara is averaging 18 cases per day — meaning that SF is quickly closing in on Santa Clara County, where there has been a cumulative total of 2,341 cases as of today, an increase of only two since Sunday.
Unrelated to increased testing, city has also seen four COVID-19 deaths in the last five days, with a total of 35 now since the pandemic began.
"Our mortality rate in San Francisco is one-quarter of that in New York State, and one half of the California state average," said SF health officer Dr. Grant Colfax in a press briefing last week. "But we still must recognize that we are very much still in the middle of a pandemic."
The CityTestSF sites — one at 7th and Brannan in SoMa and one on the Embarcadero at Piers 30/32 — were reportedly operating under capacity prior to last week, but the city responded by opening up testing to all essential workers — from grocery clerks to Uber drivers — regardless of whether they have symptoms. Also, any adult in SF can now get tested at the sites if they are experiencing symptoms including a fever or cough. There is now testing widely available through healthcare providers and at other city-sponsored and private sites, and the next step in the expansion of testing will be to allow anyone regardless of symptoms or occupation to receive a free test.
As of one day last week, one CityTestSF site set a record of 700 tests in one day.
"The expanded testing is an important step in the right direction, and I encourage all essential workers to make use of it," said Colfax. "Expanding testing is a key piece of our recovery plan... I want to make sure everyone in our community understands how much we are measuring our readiness to reopen. How much, and how."
It became clear last week with the release of data from UCSF's mass-testing program in the Mission District that the city's Latinx community is being disproportionately impacted by the virus — especially because many workers in the neighborhood have to leave their homes to work in essential businesses. In total, 90 percent of those who tested positive for the coronavirus were essential workers, and 95 percent of them were Latinx.
"We are committed to working with communities to understand type and kind of support that people need," Colfax said.
"We know that the probability that the more you're out there, the more you have contact with other people, that's how the virus can spread," said Mayor London Breed in her Monday press briefing. She explained that for this reason, and because cases continue to climb in the city, retail businesses need to hold off from curbside pickup for at least another week.
She also stressed that no one should avoid getting a free test based on their immigration status. And she discussed how outreach teams and the Office of Racial Equity have been distributing over a million flyers to different communities to try to explain what the city has been doing and how the virus is spread. "The work that they have done on education in the coronavirus... has been incredible," Breed said.
City officials have made a point of repeating over the last week that San Francisco and the other five, more urban Bay Area counties with which it is acting in concert, will not be following the same schedule of reopening retail businesses that was discussed last week by Governor Gavin Newsom, and which may begin for some counties this week. Curbside pickup for some retail businesses may resume in SF on May 18, but not sooner than that. And dine-in restaurants, while now opening or readying to open in some rural counties, are part of a Phase 3 for reopening in the Bay Area that likely will not begin for at least another month or two.
"The virus is still out there and it thrives when we get together and socialize," Colfax said. And as this report circulating last week explains, we already have evidence to suggest that indoor settings where people linger for an hour or more are significantly more risky for virus transmission than outdoor spaces or places where people only pass through briefly.
San Francisco and the five other counties' health departments say they will be tracking several key indicators before the next stage of reopening begins. Those indicators include low and flat or decreasing case numbers for a sustained period; adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) for all healthcare workers; expanded testing and wrap-around services for individuals and families exposed to the virus, especially in vulnerable and disproportionately impacted communities; the capacity to investigate every new case, trace all that case's contacts, and isolate and quarantine individuals as needed; and the ability to accurately measure the rate of new cases and whether it is flat, decreasing, or increasing.
"We will keep watching the indicators and keep working with the region and the state to determine the most reasonable next steps — reasonable, responsible, and driven by science and facts," Colfax said.
If you are an essential worker, or if you are experiencing symptoms, you can make an online appointment for a CityTestSF site here.