Since the early days of the pandemic, the Bay Area has been seen as a model for minimizing the spread of the coronavirus.
The region instituted the country’s first stay-at-home orders in March 2020 and has since consistently experienced lower levels of transmission than its southern counterparts. Today, the Bay Area has one of the lowest Covid-19 death rates in the country.
But in recent weeks, the region has received a different and less welcome kind of pandemic attention.
The Bay Area has become the state’s latest Covid hotspot, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of California’s 58 counties, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo and Alameda currently have the highest Covid transmission rates, according to the New York Times tracker.
On Friday, health workers in 11 Bay Area and surrounding counties warned of a new wave of cases fueled by highly contagious subvariants of Omicron.
Although a mask requirement for BART was reinstated late last month, health workers are not reinstating additional mandates, instead relying on recommendations that people use rapid tests, get boosters when they are eligible and start keeping masks handy again.
“If you have recently chosen not to wear a mask in indoor public places, now is a good time to start again,” Dr. George Han, deputy public health officer for the county public health department, said Friday. Santa Clara.
As the first wave of Omicron receded in early spring, Covid restrictions were lifted across California and much of the country. That means many Americans are increasingly in situations where they could contract the virus, whether from eating indoors or unmasking on planes.
New cases of coronavirus have more than tripled since April 1 in the United States – and in California in particular. Bay Area rates have climbed faster, but remain roughly in line with what is seen elsewhere, said Dr. Bob Wachter, chair of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.
“It’s not a difference between day and night. What is surprising though is that the Bay Area has performed so well throughout the pandemic,” Wachter told me. “We kind of got used to being the poster kids to do well.”
Wachter knows more people who have contracted Covid in recent weeks than ever before, he said, including his wife. He offered a few theories about the Bay Area’s new position.
The San Francisco area has a high fraction of residents who have been able to work from home in the past two years, so they may have been able to avoid the virus until recently by letting their guard down amid relaxed pandemic rules . “For the first time in two years, you’re seeing a lot of people without masks,” Wachter said.
And although the region has high vaccination rates, the ability of injections to prevent people from becoming infected diminishes over time, so they may not confer the same protection as before. Additionally, the bay may be particularly vulnerable simply because of the number of residents who have never contracted the virus before, he added.
“Faced with a very, very contagious variant, the fact that you did well in the past is a bit of a risk factor for more people to get infected now,” Wachter said.
Hospitalizations have increased slightly in the Bay Area, but much less than in previous surges, likely because vaccines offer such strong protection against serious illnesses. In Los Angeles County, where cases have increased 56% in the past two weeks, the number of patients hospitalized with Covid remains stable.
Health officials warn that the number of reported cases is likely a serious undercount because rapid home tests are not included in the data. But the numbers still provide insight into the latest trends.
At UC San Francisco, surgery patients without symptoms of Covid are being sampled for the virus as a precaution. About 5% of those patients test positive, suggesting that about one in 20 people in the Bay Area who are well are infectious with Covid, Wachter said.
“The bottom line is there’s a lot of Covid around, and if you’ve let your guard down there’s a good chance you’ll get it,” he said.
where we travel
Today’s tip comes from Amy Patrick, who lives in Napa:
“When it gets too hot, I turn to Sonoma County for relief. I pack the dogs and we’re at a pet-friendly beach on the Sonoma Coast in an hour, enjoying the drop in temperature. of 30 degrees. We’ll stop for oysters along Tomales Bay, then taste our way through Sonoma wine country on the way back. Microclimates, hills and sea, food and wine – that’s why we’re in California.
Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to CAtoday@nytimes.com. We will share more in future editions of the newsletter.
What do you want to know about the June primary elections in California? Email us your questions at CAToday@nytimes.com.
And before leaving, some good news
On May 7, Kai Neukermans went to a Pearl Jam show at The Forum in Inglewood. Neukermans, an 18-year-old from Mill Valley, plays drums in his own band, which has performed at numerous festivals.
Less than a week after the concert, Neukermans found himself performing on stage with Pearl Jam at Oakland Arena.
“It was surreal,” Neukermans told SFGate. “The arena lit up and everyone was screaming.”
Read how it happened on SFGate.