As signs point to the Omicron peak already having passed in San Francisco — with case counts falling, as predicted, after a post-holiday surge — we look to the endemic phase of COVID with some trepidation about future variants.
The hope right now among public-health officials is that antibodies from an Omicron infection will protect a large swath of the population from future infection by other variants — and there is early evidence that these antibodies are fairly effective at warding off Delta, but not vice-versa. And with booster shots in a large portion of the rest of the local population, we should be looking at a more normal year as COVID becomes more "like the flu" in terms of how we view it and how it impacts our lives.
But that doesn't mean we'll forget our anxieties or forget that it's there, and experts are already talking about how we likely won't be tossing away our masks forever anytime soon.
Dr. Monica Gandhi tells KPIX that in the endemic phase, masking and distancing likely won't be part of any public health orders, "because that really has to do with trying to keep [surges] at bay." But she says it's likely that recommendations will have us masking up indoors again next winter — much like many people do in other countries, out of caution.
In comments to KRON4, Dr. Gandhi suggested that mask recommendation for indoor spaces in the future will be for "the most vulnerable" only.
Some people are heading out into risky situations these days figuring that they're better off getting infected and gaining some immunity right now to Omicron — but experts still caution that you're rolling the dice because severity of your case may be worse than you think.
"I would much rather have my reckoning with COVID after I’ve been vaccinated a number of times, after there are orally available drugs widely accessible to treat this infection. After there’s monoclonal antibodies, widely accessible to treat it," said former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb, speaking with CBS's Face the Nation.
"I think the reality is most people are going to get COVID in their lifetime," Gottlieb said. "I don’t think most people need to get COVID within the next month."
In San Francisco, a large number of new infections are happening among teenagers right now, ages 12 to 17 — and that could be due to a number of factors, but largely because teenagers have likely been freely socializing over the last month.
But overall, it looks as though cases in San Francisco hit their peak just following the New Year's holiday weekend, and have been dropping off since. The newest case data from the SF Department of Public Health, which comes from January 11 and 12, showed daily case numbers of 269 and 80 — a far cry from the 2,769 new cases found on January 4. (These numbers are still preliminary and will likely go up as more case data comes in.)
Assuming these numbers hold, SF's seven-day average for new cases this week will be one-third of what it was in the middle of last week, and falling.
According to state data, SF's seven-day average of cases per 100,000 residents is 231, up from 188 last week when it rose above any other Northern California county. But, as of today, the average new cases per 100,000 metric shows Alameda and Santa Clara counties once again well above San Francisco in per-capita cases.
Photo: Markus Winkler