Cases of COVID-19 have continued rising in San Francisco over this summer — though it’s by no means as severe as what the city saw in 2021. Consider this a “mini-surge.”
Contrary to what some out-of-touch, incredulous PAC co-founders believe: COVID-19 is not over. Yes, the public health emergency organized around the global health emergency is, in fact, over. Of course, COVID-19 vaccines and antiviral medications are now commonplace (thank G*d). Semblances of normalcy are returning to San Francisco; it’s astounding how much character Swedish meatballs and ready-to-assemble furniture can bring to a city.
We’re far better at coping with the disease than we were three years ago. But, alas, COVID-19 is here to stay — an endemic, everyone.
COVID cases are up. Don't panic, but do consider taking some precautions, UCSF's Dr. Peter Chin-Hong (@PCH_SF) tells @KQED: "I think it's the time when people should start thinking about their risk going out and about in the world." https://t.co/53ztz9PVWb
— UCSF Health (@UCSFHospitals) August 25, 2023
With endemic diseases, there will be times when infections rise, often the result of the illness-causing pathogen evolving ways to slip past our bolstered immune systems. This is precisely what San Francisco is experiencing right now: an increase — a “mini-surge,” if you will — in COVID-19 infections, likely spiked by a new SARS-CoV-2 variant.
The overwhelming of these cases appear to be caused by a mutation-laden lineage BA.2.86 from the omicron variant — an unusual variant with several changes documented in its spike proteins; for context, the human body’s immune response to viruses is predicated on its ability to recognize infections agents, a.k.a antigens, and respond with the appropriate blood proteins; BA.2.86 is able to “sneak around” and avoid recognition by the host’s infection-specific antibodies, be they produced by past illnesses or immunizations.
More good news about the BA.2.86 variant, from great work by the @karolinskainst team, adding to its low cell infectivity by @yunlong_cao's group report
Some unanticipated cross-reactivity of XBB.1.5 antibodies, which forecasts better for the new booster https://t.co/VXIJEIhHsz
— Eric Topol (@EricTopol) September 2, 2023
According to the City, San Francisco’s rolling current seven-day average of new cases per day sits at about 60 reported infections, which represents a nearly two-fold increase when compared to the weeks recorded during this past June and July. Hospitalization rates related to COVID-19 infections still sit at around 50 cases per day – a figure that’s remained, more or less, steady since July.
This mini-surge isn’t unique to San Francisco either, but rather reflects a nationwide trend. Chicago, for example, saw a 7% increase in positive COVID-19 tests last month — though, while hospitalized rates remained comparatively low still, increasing 43% in week-over-week cases for data reported on August 2nd.
SF’s increased COVID-19 cases is reason enough why some testing sites in the city are expanding hours of operation.
For example: Unidos en Salud, the organization behind the vaccine and testing site at 24th and Capp streets in the Mission District, is adding another day of operation to its current one-day schedule. This “flex mode” will allow the site to address testing increases as the community’s needs upsurge.
“We need to ensure that disparities in access to services and care do not widen during this phase,” said Dr. Diane Havlir, a leader at the site and the associate chair of clinical research at the University of California, San Francisco’s department of medicine, to Mission Local. “This is where Latino Task Force leadership and our community site comes in.”
COVID-19 hospitalizations are rising
Please remember 2 things:
1) Reinfection is not benign; it can lead to health problems in both acute and post-acute #LongCovid phases of covid
— Ziyad Al-Aly, MD (@zalaly) August 28, 2023
As of publishing, minority communities remain disproportionately affected by COVID-19 — “We know anecdotally that [the Latinx] community is still being impacted by COVID-19, so what do we do,” Havlir tells Mission Local — and accurate testing for illnesses can be harder for BIPOC individuals to seek out; the Mission District testing site is especially important for this very reason, alone.
Currently, there are three City-organized COVID-19 testing sites in San Francisco, including the one operated by Unidos en Salud; the other two are located at the Ella Hill Hutch and the Southeast Health Center, each of which is operated using respective days and hours.
Public health officials aren’t sure yet if BA.2.86 will pose a lingering threat or simply fade into history as other variants have. Regardless, it remains wise to get tested if COVID-19-like symptoms arise, to keep up-to-date with immunizations and boosters, and to heed medical advice from professionals (and not hollow pontifications from, say, co-founders from flailing PACs).
COVID-19 is not over, nor will it likely ever be. We live in a world that’s now somewhat defined by the pathogen, and these mini-surges will only grow more common as time moves forward on this mortal coil.
Be responsible. Be respective. Be kind. Get tested. Get boosted. Stay informed.
For more information on City-organized COVID-19 testing sites, which includes the one operated by Unidos en Salud in the Mission District, visit sf.gov/drop-testing.
Feature image: Courtesy of UCSF