The choice was basically more freedom or less death after COVID arrived three years ago. Places like Florida and Texas chose freedom, California chose less death. And San Francisco in particular spared a lot of lives.
A new study by the San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH) in partnership with researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) has confirmed what we already knew — that San Francisco had one of the lowest mortality rates from COVID than most other major cities in the country. And while you could argue that the city agency and one city hospital responsible for SF's COVID response might want to too their own horns, the data does not lie.
San Francisco took pretty aggressive mitigation measures early in the pandemic, with stay-at-home orders, mask orders, and widespread availability of testing — and later, vaccines. The city also successfully reached out to minority communities, the study said, increasing awareness of virus protocols, testing, and reducing mortality among those communities as well.
These measures, the study finds, were likely responsible for SF's low COVID death toll between 2020 and 2022, which came to 98 per 100,000 residents. The average for California at large was 229 COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 during that same two-year period. And it was more than triple SF's mortality rate across the country, with 301 deaths per 100,000 on average nationwide.
"The success of San Francisco’s COVID-19 response relied on quickly putting these public health principles into action and adapting to outcomes in real time through the lens of health equity," says Dr. Grant Colfax, San Francisco Health Director and senior author of the study, in a statement.
Colfax was, of course, one of the faces of the city's pandemic response, appearing at regular press conferences alongside the mayor in 2020 and 2021 and updating us on case-rate trends and the city's gradual rules around reopening restaurants and other businesses.
"We know through our experience during the AIDS epidemic as well as the COVID-19 pandemic and mpox outbreak that public trust in health institutions is key to achieving positive health outcomes, slowing the spread of disease, and advancing health equity. I am confident that these strategies and approaches will prove equally successful in addressing future pandemics," Colfax said further.
Republicans and the conspiracy crowd will continue to cherrypick their own data in justifying why their parts of the country did the right thing in reopening early, etc., and debates about how soon kids should have been back in classrooms will probably rage on for years.
A New York Times piece over the weekend looks at all the data from Florida during the first and second year of the pandemic and finds that Governor Ron DeSantis's attitude toward the federal pandemic response, and decisions he made around reopening, likely contributed to a high number of excess deaths in 2021, during the Delta wave. Between early July 2021 and October 2021, Florida accounted for 14% of the nation's COVID deaths — while the state accounts for just 7% of the nation's population. And, the Times notes, during that period, "Of the 23,000 Floridians who died, 9,000 were younger than 65." A vast majority of the dead were unvaccinated.
DeSantis had stressed protections for elderly residents early in the pandemic — especially those in nursing homes — and encouraged them to be vaccinated initially, but he later responded to the political winds and began downplaying the importance of vaccination.
According to the CDC, Florida saw 34,557 COVID deaths in 2021, which came to 112 per 100,000 statewide. California's death rate was 100 per 100,000 during that year, so 12% lower.
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