Bay Area health officers likely don't want to order any more restrictions that will impact recovering businesses, but the pressure seems to be on to make a mask recommendation more of a mandate.
"We're going to have a pretty significant surge over the next couple weeks and one that really surprises me," says Dr. Bob Wachter, chair of the Dept. of Medicine at UCSF, speaking to ABC 7.
Wachter says it's "100% likely" that the same coalition of Bay Area health officers that issued the new mask guidance for vaccinated and unvaccinated people two weeks ago will issue a new mask mandate in the coming days. " I think their fingers health officials have to be pretty close to the trigger on this one," Wachter says.
This comes a day after the CDC issued its recommendation that vaccinated people resume masking up in all indoor public spaces — due to evidence that vaccinated people are able to infect each other with the Delta variant. The CDC also places San Francisco and three other Bay Area counties in the category of "high" virus transmission, with the rest of the region in the "substantial" category, with masks for the vaccinated recommended for both categories.
Most infectious disease experts say that masking back up shouldn't be treated as the emotional big deal that some are treating it as — and this is likely another temporary inconvenience.
Evidence out of the U.K. and Netherlands, where the Delta variant surge if a few weeks ahead of ours, suggests that in places with relatively high rates of vaccination, the number of daily cases falls off a cliff after a finite amount of time. As journalist David Wallace-Wells explains for New York Magazine today, "we may be just a couple of weeks away from a peak in cases," and "A few weeks after that, Delta may well be behind us," and then the extra precautionary measures like masks for the vaccinated can potentially be dropped again.
Wallace-Wells also suggests we should exercise restraint in taking the CDC head's statements too far when it comes to the infectiousness of vaccinated, infected and/or asymptomatic people. "None of these pieces of evidence alone is perfect or authoritative; indeed, there are limitations and shortcomings to each data point. It’s possible that the collective picture they paint is too dire as well," he says.
Dr. Wachter tells ABC 7 he's "cautiously optimistic" that we won't see any new lockdowns here in the Bay Area, thanks to our high vaccination rate, and that the surge will subside.
"I think we are catching this early enough and the percentage of vaccinated people is high enough that the likelihood that we're going to see a surge that threatens to overwhelm our hospitals is very low. But, it's not zero," Wachter says.
As of Wednesday, San Francisco has a seven-day average of daily new cases was 191, a five-fold increase from the average seen on July 13. Also, the number of suspected and confirmed COVID cases in SF hospitals rose to 81 on Tuesday, which is an eightfold increase from the low of 10 in early June, and a four-fold increase from June 30. It's not clear how many of those cases are people who were fully vaccinated, but as of last week, all of the COVD cases at SF General were unvaccinated.
By and large, the data suggests that the Delta variant produces mild symptoms in vaccinated individuals.
But for various reasons, you still don't want to get it, and masks are the easiest way to prevent the spread.
Update: ...aaand no sooner did we publish this, but the California Department of Public Health, lead by former SF health officer Dr. Tomas Aragon, just issued new guidance reversing its stance of masks from June 15, and recommending that vaccinated people mask up again indoors.