The virus is reproducing slightly more slowly now, compared to earlier in December, and on Tuesday Director of Public Health Dr. Grant Colfax credited the city’s new health orders for that improvement. All those gains, however, could be gone if people let up during the holiday season, he said.
“I hope that everyone sees that by working together and making sacrifices, we are saving lives and we can still do more,” Colfax said. “Think about that as we make decisions over the next two weeks. We can’t afford to have another surge that we had after Thanksgiving.”
Figures from Dec. 6, when shelter-in-place began, show the virus’s R number — which measures how quickly the virus is reproducing — at 1.45. By Dec. 20, the number was 1.24. Medical experts aim for the number to be below one to limit the spread.
Though the change appears insignificant, Colfax showed projected peak hospitalizations dropped from 1,450 to 590, and from 544 additional deaths to 214 deaths as a result of the improvement. If city residents continue to be vigilant about not gathering, the R number could fall below one, and additional deaths could drop even more, to 74, he said.
“We are saving hundreds, hundreds of people from being hospitalized if we continue to work together and stay at home,” the doctor said.
Mayor London Breed echoed this, saying, “We are in a much better place, but we’re still in a very, very dangerous place in this city. And your work and your following these orders have been instrumental.”
References were made to Thanksgiving, when post-holiday covid cases surged immediately, despite officials urging residents to refrain from gathering and traveling. A preliminary UCSF study found a positivity rate of 6 percent in the residents tested in the Mission before Thanksgiving, and a rate of 10 percent after the holidays. Overall positivity rates in the city are now 4.15 percent.
To restrict movement, the city announced on Dec. 17 that any Bay Area outsider who is moving or traveling to San Francisco, at least until Jan. 4, 2021, must quarantine for 10 days.
Meanwhile, new daily cases are at a peak of 275 per day. Colfax warned in earlier conferences that covid hospitalizations tend to spike weeks after case surges. There have been 20,976 cases and 176 deaths in San Francisco so far.
New data released by the city show the Latinx community reported nearly triple the city’s positivity rate in the past two weeks, with 11.24 percent positivity. And, the virus is still impacting the southeast sector of the city the most: positivity is highest in Visitacion Valley, Bayview Hunters Point, Portola and the Excelsior, while transmission spread is highest in Bayview Hunters Point and the Mission.
San Francisco is faring better than its county neighbors in terms of hospitalizations. As of Dec. 20, it has about 31 percent of ICU beds and 26 percent of acute care beds available. However, the Bay Area has joined other state regions in a governor-dictated stay-at-home order triggered by the collective counties’ failure to maintain more than 15 percent ICU capacity. At present, the Southern California region is reporting no ICU availability.
“Nothing scares me more than if we get to a point where we have to turn someone away from the hospital, because it’s not just about the number of beds,” Breed said.
Still, on Tuesday Breed highlighted some “bright spots,” like the $900 billion federal coronavirus relief package that Congress signed Monday. While Breed said it wasn’t “perfect,” it would revitalize San Francisco with the Paycheck Protection Program for businesses, and direct support for entertainment and theater venues.
It would also unlock emergency funds for Muni, public schools, Covid-19 testing and vaccine response, and rental assistance, Breed said.
The rollout of vaccines this December is another point of optimism, she said, especially as the city prepares for the additional Moderna vaccine. Colfax said the city is closely monitoring vaccine distribution strategy, but he did not offer any details.
On a lighter and more festive note, the mayor thanked residents too for other small positive actions — Christmas trees in windows, the fire station Christmas decoration contest, and a smattering of Christmas lights — that has made the atypical celebration season a bit warmer.
“We know that if we can just get through these holidays and avoid any significant surges, we have an opportunity to get this virus under control,” Breed said. “So that next year we have an opportunity to celebrate with our loved ones.”