COVID-19 cases are spiking across the Bay Area amid holiday gatherings, prompting San Mateo County health officials to encourage the public to “get smart” about the virus and reconsider any large New Year’s plans.
“It’s more important than ever for people to understand the virus and for everybody to take it seriously,” Dr. Curtis Chan, the county’s deputy health officer, said.
While officials had anticipated a winter surge, Chan said the omicron variant, a far more contagious strain of COVID-19 first spotted in South Africa, has amplified the spread of the virus “remarkably.”
In the matter of weeks, it’s been identified across the Bay Area including in San Mateo County and traces of the variant in communities are now 10 to 20 times higher than they were a month ago, Chan said.
In past weeks, the county reported experiencing fewer than 200 new cases a week. Now, infections are pouring in by the hundreds per day with nearly 4,000 in the last 30 days. In total, more than 58,400 residents have tested positive for the virus.
“That’s a huge number of people,” Chan said. “That’s just the tip of the iceberg.”
Hospitalizations have also slightly increased. As of Tuesday, 22 people were receiving treatment for COVID with seven patients in the ICU, up from the 10 to 15 patients being treated regularly in previous months.
But Chan said hospital capacity is not the most urgent concern at the moment, instead pointing to the risk of vaccinated people experiencing breakthrough cases and transmitting the virus to the unvaccinated or people with underlying health conditions.
Rather than attending large office parties or New Year’s gatherings, Chan suggested people celebrate with close loved ones. And testing, masking and hand washing are imperative.
And officials are still imploring those who are still unvaccianted to seek out a shot from one of the many clinics sponsored by the county, offered through private care providers or accessible at pharmacies and for the vaccinated to avoid large gatherings or close contacts.
“We are concerned and we are recommending that people enhance their prevention strategies in every sector,” Chan said, noting little has changed around the best ways to prevent widespread of the virus over the last two years.
What has changed is the severity of the surges on the greater community. As COVID-19 infections surpass a summer spike caused by the delta strain, hospitalizations have yet to do the same. Officials had warned even a small spike in cases could overwhelm hospitals and Chan said time will tell how severe conditions become in medical settings.
Chan credited low hospitalizations to the county’s high vaccination rate, at more than 94% for those ages 12 and older. Unlike last winter, when very few were vaccinated and hundreds of residents died, many of the most vulnerable people in local communities are vaccinated including 95% of people ages 65 and older who account for most of COVID-related deaths.
And some of the county’s most underserved are also largely vaccinated, including about 65% of Latinos who account for more than half of infections, 61% of Black residents and nearly 60% of Native Hawaiians or Pacific Islanders.
Vaccination rates among children who became eligible for vaccines just months ago have also progressed quickly with more than 50% of children ages 5 to 11 and 90% of those ages 12 to 15 having received at least one dose.
Still, Chan said now is the time to practice an abundance of caution for at least the next four to six weeks to ensure a few infections are spread especially among the most vulnerable, during this winter period.
“People should not be concerned at a level where it’s harmful to themselves,” Chan said. “But they should be concerned about their overall community and their extended family members and their own health.”
Visit smchealth.org/covid-19-vaccination-program-overview to learn more about county-sponsored vaccination clinics.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 106