If you haven't yet received at least one vaccine shot and waited the appropriate two weeks after to resume more normal activities, you should not be resuming those activities as if we're totally out of the woods and you have nothing to fear — I don't care how young or invincible you think you are.
We are in the midst of a make-or-break moment for the Bay Area and for California, and potentially one of the most dangerous moments of the pandemic for people feeling carefree and cavalier about the state of things and their relative risk. It's spring, bars and restaurants are doing more business than they have in many months, and there is still as much COVID around us as there was in the sunny months of October just before the holiday surge, and in the nervous early days of the pandemic last spring. Case counts remain low in San Francisco, this is true, but also people have stopped getting regularly tested and are feeling less paranoid — and hospitalization numbers across the Bay Area have basically leveled off, and even ticked up 5% on Monday. People are still getting sick. The variants are taking over. And there's nothing truly stopping California from having another swell or surge in new cases besides people wearing masks and not congregating indoors until they get their vaccine shots.
Half of San Franciscans can enjoy a bit more freedom in the coming weeks — as of Tuesday, 50% of the city had reportedly received at least one vaccine dose, or the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Hopefully that includes everyone who has to work outside their homes. That is great news, but it still doesn't amount to herd immunity — and there are still unknowns about how well the vaccines perform against the P.1 "Brazillian" variant, or the newly spreading "Indian" variant that was just identified in the Bay Area.
But with Governor Gavin Newsom's big announcement Tuesday about "fully" opening California for business by June 15, a lot of you may be feeling, psychologically, like the worst days are behind us.
Everything can change, and people can still die, and Bay Area infectious disease experts are putting out warnings that the home stretch does not mean you can celebrate yet if you haven't gotten a vaccine.
The CDC says that young people are driving outbreaks in the Northeast and Midwest, because they are not vaccinated yet and they're all throwing caution to the wind. And, just as experts predicted two months ago, the B.1.1.7 variant first found in the U.K. has become the dominant strain across the U.S. because it is 50% to 70% more contagious. And if you're feeling young and dumb and need some motivation to not catch the virus, a new study suggests that one-third of people with mild COVID cases suffer long-term "brain disease," including brain fog, anxiety, paranoia, and extended loss of smell or taste. You like those odds?
Also, if you get infected you run the risk of infecting your vaccinated or unvaccinated friends — so-called "breakthrough" cases where vaccinated people get sick are rare according to experts, per the New York Times, but they still happen, and we still don't know what's up with the baddest of the variants.
"For the unvaccinated and never-infected person, nothing has changed," says Dr. Bob Wachter, chair of the Department of Medicine at UCSF, speaking to the Chronicle this week. "What has changed is that the virus they might be exposed to is ... likely better at its job than the one that was circulating in 2020."
Everyone in San Francisco is eligible to get a vaccine starting next week, April 15, and hopefully supplies will accelerate and the process will be speedy.
But until you're two weeks out from your first shot, at which point you have relatively decent immunity — or great immunity if you got the J&J shot — your behavior should not change. You should not be partying indoors. You probably shouldn't be eating indoors at restaurants. You should not be traveling all over and never quarantining. You should not be out drinking every night with different people across a table at an outdoor bar.
If you've gotten one Pfizer or Moderna shot, your behavior also shouldn't change significantly until five to six weeks later, or two weeks after the second shot.
And everyone still needs to wear masks in public probably for most of this year, sadly. YES, it sucks. But this is not theater, as Dr. Anthony Fauci told an obstinate Rand Paul last month — unknowns with the variants mean that none of this is theater.
Please let us get to June without a new spike, without Mayor London Breed and Dr. Colfax having to get on another grim Zoom session and scold us all for fucking this up. We are so close.
UC Berkeley infectious disease expert John Swartzberg — who, admittedly, has been one of the more cautious and pessimistic among local experts — tells the Chronicle, "I’m feeling insecure about what’s going to happen this month, what direction things will go." He says that April will be "pivotal" for California, and "If we can get through this month without a significant surge we are going to be in very, very good shape."
So, let's do it! Let's get through this month. If you haven't gotten a shot yet, try to spend a little more time at home than you want to, and keep doing stuff outdoors if you go out. Things could still go south for the Bay Area and you don't want to be partly to blame for that!
We have summer to look forward to. And a fall that is starting to look jam-packed with events already. Please just chill.
Photo: Drew Coffman