The pandemic picture in the Bay Area hasn't entirely cleared up and turned sunny, and there continue to be pockets of new infection in multiple local counties, as well as an unsettling uptick in new COVID hospitalizations.
Everything that public health officials and Dr. Anthony Fauci warned us about when it comes to the speed of the vaccine effort is coming to pass, and we may be staring down a third/fourth wave of coronavirus infection that likely won't spare the Bay Area despite our higher-than-average rates of vaccination.
On July 1, hospitalizations for suspected and confirmed COVID patients rose 10% in the Bay Area, from 216 to 238. Up until the first week of June, hospitalizations in the region had been trending downward from a high of 2,279 on January 11 to just 204 on June 8, but they've since plateaued and ticked up on some days.
The rise in hospitalizations, while not yet dramatic, mirrors a leveling off and slow rise in hospital numbers statewide as we enter the second half of 2021 with just 50% of the state's population fully vaccinated. The Delta variant, now thought to be 75% more contagious than the original strains of COVID-19, is circulating widely and it is poised to take over as the dominant strain of the virus nationwide — with the unvaccinated being its primary targets.
The biggest numbers of new cases right now in the Bay Area as a percent of overall population are appearing in Sonoma County — which was also one of the last counties to move out of "Red" and "Orange" tier status before the state retired the color-coded system on June 15. The county is seeing an average of 12 new cases per 100,000 residents — or about 59 total cases — per day among the unvaccinated, which is double the new daily case rate among unvaccinated residents on May 1.
San Francisco's Director of Public Health Dr. Grant Colfax tells the Chronicle this week that everyone needs to be vigilant about the Delta variant — and San Franciscans who are vaccinated should remain cautious around tourists and people arriving from elsewhere, and try to do their Fourth of July socializing outdoors.
"It’s like COVID on steroids," Colfax said of the variant. "It’s about 30% of cases locally right now. Within just a few months, we expect it to be over 90% of our cases."
And he warns the unvaccinated that they shouldn't be reliant on herd immunity, no matter how high SF's vaccination rate is.
"This is not a good time to be unvaccinated in San Francisco," Colfax said. "People may have the misperception that because our vaccine rates are high, even if they’re not vaccinated they are unlikely to catch the virus. I think [the] Delta [variant] has shifted the equation."
Across the state, the slight rise in hospitalizations is likely attributable to the high rate of infectiousness with this variant and its increased virulence, and the slowing of the overall vaccination effort. Experts say that the vast majority of new infections and COVID deaths are happening among unvaccinated Americans — and on Thursday we learned that the rate of "breakthrough" infections among vaccinated people in California remains very low, at around 0.04%.
Statewide, around 950 new COVID infections are currently being confirmed daily.
Infectious disease experts and public health officials continue to stress that the currently available vaccines, particularly the mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna), appear to be highly effective against the Delta variant.