In pandemic news Tuesday there is a mix of good and bad, and an interesting new study looking at the genetics of multiple SARS-CoV-2 strains that entered California at the beginning of the year. And new cases aren't exactly slowing down locally.
Bay Area Topline: Following two separate days last week in which we had no new COVID-19 deaths reported in the Bay Area, there have been 12 deaths reported so far between Monday and Tuesday, June 8 and 9, with 10 so far today. One of those deaths occurred in San Francisco and was reported this morning, five were in San Mateo County, and several others in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, including three today in Contra Costa. Alameda County continues to have the most cases with almost 4,000, and the swiftest growth in cases since mid-May. As of Tuesday, the Bay Area has had nearly 16,000 cumulative, confirmed COVID cases and 474 deaths — with four counties not yet reporting for today. See all the local stats here.
Hospitalizations on the rise: A rise in ICU bed occupancy has been seen as a signal of a new spike in cases in a county, and Dr. Sara Cody, the health officer for Santa Clara County, is warning that such a spike may be on the immediate horizon there. "We are beginning to see a little bit of an uptick in our hospitalizations, which likely reflects the easing [of restrictions] we did in the middle of May," Dr. Cody said during the county Board of Supervisors meeting Monday, per KPIX. The uptick she's referring to appears to be in the county's ICUs specifically, with data showing a doubling of severe COVID cases in ICU beds — from 11 to 23 — between May 31 and June 7. Alameda County has also seen a jump in hospitalized COVID cases not in the ICU from 82 on June 4 to 92 on June 8; but San Francisco's hospitalization rate and ICU occupancy has been steadily trending downward since early May.
WHO downplays asymptomatic spread, then walks that back: At a briefing at U.N. headquarters in Geneva on Monday, Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, head of the World Health Organization’s emerging diseases and zoonosis unit, said that given existing data, "it still seems to be rare that an asymptomatic person actually transmits onward to a secondary individual." She said that the emphasis in public health should be on isolating symptomatic individuals and tracing their contacts. She added that studies do suggest asymptomatic spread has been an issue in nursing home outbreaks — and in clarifying comments on Tuesday, she said there was still significant risk of pre-symptomatic and mildly symptomatic people spreading the virus without knowing they're sick. (And the jury is still out on what the true percentage of so-called asymptomatic cases is.) [CNBC / Axios]
Dr. Fauci makes grim statements: In a talk he delivered Tuesday to biotech executives, America's trusted source of epidemiological wisdom reiterated that SARS-CoV-2 is his "worst nightmare," when it comes to easily transmissible, respiratory viruses, and "we're still at the beginning" of this pandemic. He said that previously known, efficiently spread viruses took six months to reach across the entire globe, and this one only took a month. And he added that extra efforts must be made to mitigate the spread of the virus in African American communities, which have been disproportionately hit with more severe cases. [New York Times]
New UCSF study suggests multiple entry points for virus in Northern California: Dr. Charles Chiu, director of the UCSF-Abbott Viral Diagnostics and Discovery Center, has published a study in the journal Science revealing the results of his team's research into 36 virus samples taken from patients in nine California counties. As he's suggested to the media in recent months, genetic sequencing of the virus samples found that multiple strains made different entry points in Northern California, some of which were snuffed out and prevented from becoming outbreaks — including one in Solano County in which an infected patient gave the virus to two healthcare workers, and it ended there. As one evolutionary biologist who reviewed the study tells CNN, California likely avoided a broader and more virulent outbreak due to "a combination of public health measures and luck."
ICYMI: A new peer-reviewed study out of UC Berkeley's Global Policy Laboratory that we discussed yesterday estimates that various public health measures and travel restrictions likely prevented 530 million COVID infections between January and early April. In California, that means about 1.7 million people who avoided infection in that period, saving an untold number of lives.
Photo: Vincent Ghilione