Wastewater levels show the Bay Area (and the whole country) are in the second-largest COVID surge of the pandemic, but we’re not seeing near the same levels of deaths or hospitalizations that have characterized the other previous surges.

You may have seen social media posts saying “We are in the second-largest surge of the pandemic.” And this is demonstrably true! In terms of infections, at least. Here in the Bay Area, the Chronicle reports we’re seeing the highest levels of COVID in wastewater we’ve ever recorded, though that comes with the qualifier that we didn’t start recording wastewater levels here in SF until 2022. And as the Chron also notes, “unlike previous waves of the pandemic, fewer people are becoming severely ill with the disease.”

This does not mean we should let our guard down, in fact, we probably all ought to be masking and testing more frequently than we have been. (And get that updated COVID vaccine shot!) The Chronicle also notes that COVID-related hospitalizations have increased by 23% over the last month, according to just-released state data, with nearly 2,100 Califonians hospitalized.

Image: SF.Gov

But that’s nowhere near the 22,000 Californians hospitalized in the initial Omcron wave of early 2021, or the nearly 3,500 at this time last year. And while the San Francisco hospitalization  numbers seen above seem historically fairly low, the numbers have not been updated since December 30, so the hospitalization rates are surely a little higher now.

This is all an expected post-holiday surge, after lots of traveling and gatherings in poorly ventilated spaces. We’ve seen this each of the last three years in January. And the new JN.1 variant was responsible for just 21% of infections a month ago, whereas now that number is at 62%.

This all should be a reminder to get the updated COVID vaccine, and to test more frequently, even if you feel the lower deaths and hospitalization rates mean there’s little cause for alarm. "While we're not seeing the same levels of hospitalizations or deaths as 2020 or 2021,” Dr. Lucky Tran, author of the “second-largest surge” tweet at the top of this post, tells Today. “It's still a very high (infection) baseline compared with before the pandemic, and that's something that we should still care about."

Related: Bay Area Wastewater Shows Rising Levels of COVID, Flu, and RSV After Holidays [SFist]

Image: One woman, young woman with Covid-19 symptoms sitting on sofa at home, holding thermometer. (Getty Images)