Lockdown may be slowing spread of COVID-19

Officials say it is too soon to relax vigilance

San Francisco’s preemptive stay-at-home order is starting to tamp down the spread of COVID-19, but officials warned Tuesday that holiday gatherings continue to pose a threat.

The spread of the disease in San Francisco has slowed down in the past couple weeks but remains high. California now has the highest number of average daily cases per capita in the nation as of Tuesday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

On Dec. 5, the day before Bay Area counties voluntarily imposed a new shelter-in-place order, The City’s reproductive rate for COVID-19 was 1.45, meaning that every person infected is infecting another 1.45 on average. That rate that would result in 1,490 hospitalizations by a peak in mid-February and 544 deaths by March, health officials said.

As of Dec. 26, the reproductive rate had dropped to 1.13, a rate estimated to instead result in 290 hospitalizations by mid-February and 108 new deaths by April. The goal is to get below a 1.0 reproductive rate this week, bringing hospitalizations down to 210 by Jan. 4 and 68 deaths by April.

“We are seeing some reasons for hope but we are still in a precarious position,” said Department of Public Health Director Dr. Grant Colfax. “This surge is still our biggest yet. We cannot afford to have a Christmas or New Year’s surge on top of the surge we’re already experiencing. That would be catastrophic.”

The impacts of holiday gatherings remain to be seen. Colfax called this month’s level of airplane travel under the pandemic “extremely concerning.” Anyone traveling into or returning to the Bay Area is required to quarantine for 10 days, but that requirement is largely not enforced.

The Bay Area’s intensive care unit capacity is hovering around 9 percent, Colfax said Tuesday, down from 13.7 percent last week. State stay-at-home orders are in place when regions have less than 15 percent ICU capacity, like Southern California and San Joaquin Valley at 0 percent.

San Francisco is doing better than other parts of the Bay Area, with a 34 percent ICU capacity as of Sunday.

Southern California and San Joaquin Valley are not expected to reach at least 15 percent capacity in four weeks, state projections from Tuesday showed. Stay-at-home orders for the two regions will be extended as a result.

There is no word yet on much longer the Bay Area’s shelter-in-place order, currently set to end Jan. 8, may be extended, but Colfax said the better people do now at this critical juncture, the sooner it can be lifted.

“If we see a surge like we did in Thanksgiving, we will see…thousands more people in the hospital, hundreds more people dying,” Colfax said. “We simply cannot afford to have people gather. Let’s keep the pressure on this virus and continue to turn this surge around.”

imojadad@sfexaminer.com

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