There is no cause for alarm, local experts say, but San Francisco's COVID picture isn't yet back to the very low case counts of mid-Fall 2021, with the Omicron and BA.2 variants still driving transmission as people's immunity wanes.
The figures for San Francisco's recorded daily COVID cases remain pretty unreliable given how few people with symptoms are likely even going to get PCR tested in an official way. But at least they provide a sense of where cases are headed, after dropping consistently week to week between mid-January and mid-March. In the last couple of weeks, SF's seven-day rolling average of new cases has edged back up, likely driven by the general masklessness and normalcy taking place out in public.
On March 18, SF saw a seven-day rolling average of 74 new cases per day, and since then it has ticked higher and is back up to 112 new daily cases as of Tuesday.
"If you walk around San Francisco like I have, there are tons of people from all over the country and the world,” says UCSF's Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, speaking to KPIX. “It’s like it’s back in 2019. So I think that’s part of the reason [for the uptick]."
Still, Chin-Hong says, "if cases are going up, they’re going up very very slowly, if at all."
As the Chronicle reports, SF reported a 7-day average of 14 cases per 100,000 residents on Tuesday, which is a 56% jump over the past month — and it means that San Francisco and a few neighboring counties now have the highest new case rates in California. And San Francisco r-naught or reproductive number for viral transmission is now 1.12, while the overall number for California is 0.86.
Hospitalizations, which are a more reliable indicator of surges, have largely plateaued in the Bay Area in recent weeks, leveling off at numbers similar to those seen in November, before the Omicron wave hit.
Chin-Hong tells the Chronicle that we're likely looking at rising cases due to the BA.2 variant, and, he says, "It is worrisome, We have this thing coming, and we don’t know how it will impact the population."
The state's Department of Public Health has just stopped its practice of daily reporting of new cases and deaths, opting to switch to reporting twice weekly instead. "We have learned over the course of this pandemic that it is more helpful to look at data trends over time and that public health recommendations should be based on consistent trends rather than day-over-day changes," the department says in a statement to the Chronicle.
Chin-Hong says that this move could be premature, given that a BA.2 wave of some size or significance appears to be on its way.
But Dr. George Rutherford, professor of epidemiology at UCSF, strikes a more optimistic note i his quotes to the Chronicle. "If you look at Western Europe where BA.2 is the predominant variant, in many countries the case rates continue to fall,” Rutherford says. “The two outliers are the U.K. and Germany. It’s hard to tell exactly which way things will break."
And Dr. Monica Gandhi, speaking to KPIX, is also sounding positive. "Zero people in the hospital at my hospital where I work and 5 up at UCSF with three called 'incidental,'" Gandhi tells KPIX. "They’re there with COVID, but not for COVID. So we're keeping the rates of disease very low in the city."
As of Tuesday, San Francisco had 30 confirmed and suspected COVID cases in hospitals, but it's not clear how many of those are "for COVID." There were 339 people in hospitals across the Bay Area who were COVID-positive as of Tuesday, up by three from Monday.
Photo: Waldemar Brandt