COVID cases in the Bay Area are increasing. How worried are public health officials?

Coronavirus cases are rising across California after a month of relative stability, but Bay Area health officials say they are encouraged by low rates of COVID hospitalizations — especially for patients requiring intensive care, which are at their lowest level since the start of the pandemic – and they are not preparing for another surge or expecting an imminent need to reinstate preventive measures like mask mandates.

California is yet to see a surge of cases similar to what has been reported in parts of the northeastern United States, where large outbreaks have infected high-profile decision makers and Broadway stars. As the highly infectious BA.2 variant of the coronavirus takes hold across the country and case reports mount in many areas, federal health officials on Wednesday extended the mask mandate for all public transportation that was due to expire next week. And earlier this week, Philadelphia became the first city in the nation to reinstate a local indoor mask mandate in response to rising cases.

But Bay Area officials say they no longer rely primarily on case reports to shape their local COVID response, and expect to be less responsive to daily ups and downs in numbers. Instead, they monitor trends over weeks and use a range of monitoring systems to help them understand when a flare-up may start – and whether it’s likely to make large numbers of people seriously ill or have need for hospital care. .

At this time, while they are keeping a watchful eye on the COVID situation in the Northeast and locally, they are confident the Bay Area is well positioned to take on BA.2.

“Overall, things are still very supportive,” said Alameda County Health Officer Dr. Nicholas Moss. “We remain at relatively low case rates and relatively low hospitalizations. But we’re a little off our low point for cases. It’s just a reminder that things are likely to continue to be dynamic.

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Tracking the coronavirus — a critical tool for controlling the spread of the disease since the pandemic began in early 2020 — has undergone a subtle but important shift in the past two months as California and the rest of the states- United are developing strategies to coexist with a virus that is unlikely to go away completely. Daily case reports had been a determining measure for everything from requiring masks to stopping certain activities.

But “it’s been a long time since we’ve adjusted the day-to-day COVID strategy,” Moss said.

Case reports, which have never been able to capture a complete picture of the full spread of the disease in a community, have become even more inaccurate with the increasing reliance on home testing that is not reported to health services. public health. Meanwhile, high levels of immunity — due to vaccination and previous infection or both — mean far fewer people are getting seriously ill, and case numbers don’t translate as directly into hospitalizations as they do. previously.

In February, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention unveiled new measures to determine the threat posed by COVID in communities, relying much less on local cases and more on hospitalizations; as of this week, every state was in the “low” threat category, even in regions reporting increases. In California, the state’s public health department switched this month to releasing case numbers twice a week instead of five times.

Bay Area health officials said that as long as hospitalizations remain low, they do not expect to put in place more public health restrictions unless they see signs that more people get very sick.

“Our cases have been steadily increasing over the last 10 days or two weeks, but they haven’t increased sharply,” said Dr. Grant Colfax, head of the San Francisco Department of Public Health, who reported a over- 50% increase in daily cases over the past month – albeit from a low base – as well as an increase in the percentage of positive tests, from 2.4% a month ago to 4 .4%. “We don’t see what we saw with the omicron surge.”

Colfax said bringing back a local mask mandate is “not on the table” at this time, although it will remain an option for the foreseeable future if there is another big increase. In fact, San Francisco health officials no longer recommend face coverings in most situations, although people should continue to wear them if they prefer, Colfax said.

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