‘We’re not out of it yet’: As COVID cases swell, Bay Area health officials urge more masking and caution

‘We’re not out of it yet’: As COVID cases swell, Bay Area health officials urge more masking and caution

The COVID-19 death toll in California is inching close to a dark milestone of 90,000 lives lost, as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations keep pushing up across the state, and health officials urge people to take more precautions.

Daily new cases are up 150% from a month ago across California, though still below the height of the winter omicron wave. Experts point to COVID fatigue and the emergence of highly transmissible new virus variants, with officials on Tuesday calling on residents to voluntarily resume safety precautions like indoor mask wearing.

“We’re not out of it yet,” Dr. Sara Cody, the health officer in Santa Clara County, said at a news conference. “The pandemic is still here. We are seeing more activity. So it is time to break out your masks and break out your tests, and just be a bit more cautious than you were a month ago.”

The Bay Area region is now averaging 33 new daily cases per 100,000 residents, according to state data published Tuesday, with San Francisco leading the surge. The city reported 40 cases per 100,000 residents, the second-highest rate of infection in California behind nearby Santa Cruz County at 42 per 100,000. California is tracking 20 daily cases per 100,000 residents.

The state has reported 89,957 COVID deaths in all since the pandemic began. That’s more than any other state, but California is the nation’s most populous, and its death rate per 100,000 residents is among the lowest in the country. The state is currently reporting about 38 deaths a day.

Nurse practitioner Paige Yang mixes a dose of Evusheld, a preventative monoclonal injection, at Total Infusion in Oakland. Vaccination and medications like Evusheld have helped to significantly keep severe COVID illness and death at bay while infection rates rise.

Brontë Wittpenn/The Chronicle

“I don’t have a crystal ball, but what I can share is I would guess we will continue to see peaks and valleys. How often the peaks come and how high they are and how dangerous they are, we don’t really know,” Cody said. “What I want to happen is for everyone to just understand where we are and understand that they are at risk because we’ve got a lot of virus circulating now, and it’s on its way up.”

In San Francisco, the coronavirus test positivity rate has reached 9.4% — more than twice California’s overall rate of 4.1%.

“It’s not like it’s futile to try to avoid getting it, but it’s also a world where you recognize that even if you’re careful, stuff happens,” said Dr. Bob Wachter, UCSF’s chief of medicine, whose wife tested positive for the coronavirus on Sunday while the couple was traveling. “You have to calibrate your level of caution. You have to keep in mind that what you’re doing now is probably what you’re going to have to be doing a year from now, maybe two years from now, in the face of the same threat.”

Cody also said her county is starting to see “early signs” that hospitalizations may be on the rise after a long period of remaining flat, even while case counts steadily increased in recent weeks. The county’s average reported COVID-19 cases rose to 589 on May 3, from 193 on April 3, she noted, and the levels of COVID detected in wastewater across the county “are rising in a similar fashion.”

At the same time, the head of the California health department’s wastewater surveillance said Tuesday that a handful of wastewater tracking sites are showing signs of virus plateauing, including in San Francisco and other parts of the Bay Area.

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