COVID case numbers have been dropping and so have hospitalizations since January in the Bay Area. But the reason you're still hearing so much conflicting information is that there aren't enough vaccinated people yet to let our guard down, hospitalizations appear to have stopped dropping steadily, and things remain scary in the upper Midwest and the Northeast.

Hospitalizations for serious COVID cases have shown signs of leveling off in the Bay Area in the past week, with slight upticks even occurring on some days and in some counties. We are not seeing the kind of concerning surge in cases that is being seen in Michigan, New Jersey, and elsewhere, but we can't yet be sure we're in the clear and people really need to keep their masks on.

UCSF infectious disease expert Dr. Monica Gandhi said earlier this week that the CDC director's warnings about "impending doom" across the country were "a little alarmist," and certainly in the Bay Area she says we have less to fear.

"I'm really not concerned," Gandhi told ABC 7. "I, in fact, am feeling really hopeful and optimistic that we're going in the right direction."

But today we have more gloom from Santa Clara County health officials who announce that there are a lot of variant cases being confirmed around the county. As of March 27, they said, there were 92 confirmed cases of B.1.1.7 (the UK variant), three confirmed cases of B.1.351 (the South African variant), one case of P.1 (the Brazilian variant) and over 1,000 confirmed cases of B.1.427 and B.1.429 (two variants first detected in California).

"Genomic sequencing is allowing us to confirm what we already presumed based on national trends, which is the presence and unfortunate increase of variants in our community,” said Santa Clara Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody at a press conference, per KRON4. "We’re already seeing surges in other parts of the country, likely driven by variants. Combined with the data we are seeing locally, these are important warning signs that we must continue to minimize the spread. We can still stop a surge from happening here if we hold onto our tried and true prevention measures for a little longer while we increase our vaccination rates."

"The numbers are picking up, and right now we’re in a race between the variants and the vaccine," Cody said.

Dr. Martin Fenstersheib, the county’s testing and vaccine officer, reiterated those comments, and said he expected 80% of adults in the county to be vaccinated by August, as KPIX reports. "Please be patient, please protect yourself because we don’t want the variants to cause a problem with people who have not yet been vaccinated or develop additional variants," Fenstersheib said. "The more the virus is allowed to replicate, the more chance there is for additional mutations and variants."

On SFist's Bay Area COVID info page, we've been tracking COVID hospitalizations since the summer surge last year. Hospitalized cases ticked up on four different days in the last week, even though the trajectory has been generally downward. There are now as many COVID patients in Bay Area hospitals as there were in late October and early November, before the winter surge, and about as many as there were in at the beginning of the summer surge in late June.

Graph by SFist

As of March 30, there were 406 COVID patients in Bay Area hospitals, down from 680 on March 1.

Daily new cases in San Francisco averaged 37 last week, and 26 the week before, but so far this week they are averaging about 32 per day.

In Santa Clara County, the seven-day average for daily new cases was 108 as of yesterday, down from 110 one week earlier, and down from 125 two weeks earlier.

The Bay Area has seen a cumulative total of 422,300 cases to date since last March, as of this writing.

Graph by SFist