Number of SF hospital patients with COVID nears all-time high – San Francisco Chronicle

Gabriela Esparza and Zach Wu of East Bay Municipal Utility District gather effluent in July to be analyzed for coronavirus genetic material in the sewage. The latest samples from S.F., Marin and Contra Costa counties show infections slowing.
The Bay Area’s postholiday omicron surge may be tapering off, but health officials remain on high alert as hospitalizations continue upward — San Francisco is on the cusp of its COVID patient record — and California’s infection rate hovers in reach of the all-time high.
As of Monday, the state has passed the 7 million mark for the number of Californians who have been infected by the coronavirus in the two years since the pandemic began. California reached the milestone barely a week after crossing the 6 million-case threshold in cumulative infections.
“We are not out of the woods,” Contra Costa County’s health services director, Anna Roth, declared on Tuesday.
Even as some positive indicators — including the latest virus-testing samples from a number of Bay Area sewage plants — seem to show coronavirus infections slowing in some places, public health officials are warily eyeing a continued rise in hospital cases.
San Francisco had 256 COVID-positive patients on Monday, just three fewer than its all-time high recorded just over a year ago when vaccines were only beginning to roll out. Marin County’s 44 patients with the coronavirus on Monday marked the highest number the county’s hospitals have recorded, though the health officer noted that half of those patients who tested positive were being treated for other medical conditions and did not have COVID symptoms.
Across the Bay Area, the 1,881 hospital patients infected with the virus as of Monday — with 309 in intensive care units — remained below the Bay Area’s pandemic high of 2,210 patients, which was reached in January 2021 before vaccines were widely available. But with the seven-day rolling average for daily new cases in the Bay Area at 235 per 100,000 residents, it could soon top that number.
“This is a tough moment for our health care system,” Dr. Ori Tzvieli, public health director for Contra Costa County, told the Board of Supervisors in a Tuesday update. Referring to the hospitalizations, he added, “That’s a number we’re watching more closely than our case numbers.”
“We know those admissions to the hospital are three weeks behind” increases in cases, Roth told the supervisors. “We still have a lot of work to do. We still need to be very diligent in protecting ourselves.”
California’s rate of positive coronavirus test results attest to that: State health officials on Tuesday reported the latest rate of positives at 21.1%, not far below the state’s highest to date — 23.5% reported last week.
With the Bay Area’s high vaccination rates affording considerable community protection, recent weeks have not seen the COVID-19 death rates follow the steep upward trend in case counts. While furiously transmissible, the now-dominant omicron variant appears to cause less severe illness and death than was seen during last winter’s deadly surge.
And despite some muddying of the picture due to variation among counties, case numbers across the Bay Area indicate the surge appears to be slowing down after several weeks of explosive growth.
A few counties may have already peaked, though that won’t be clear for another few days, health experts said. And other counties are definitely still seeing large daily increases in cases.
“My impression is that we have leveled off, though it’s really hard to know in the moment if you’ve peaked,” said Dr. Nicholas Moss, the Alameda County health officer. “I think we’ll look back at the first half of January and see a peak somewhere in there.”
Cases are leveling off and possibly dropping in Santa Clara County, and hospitalizations aren’t rising quite as quickly as they were a week or two ago, said Dr. Ahmed Kamal, the county’s COVID-19 director of health care preparedness. He added that hospital staffing has improved somewhat, too, as fewer nurses, doctors and other providers are out sick with COVID.
“We’re continuing to see that rise (in hospitalizations), but not as steep as before,” Kamal said Tuesday. “At this point, I think we are seeing a little glimmer of hope, because case counts are going down a little now.”
There are also hopeful signs in the Bay Area’s sewers.
A wastewater surveillance tool created by researchers at UC Berkeley, which measures levels of COVID-19 genetic material in sewage systems, shows a sharp decline in the concentration of coronavirus RNA in the effluent in parts of San Francisco, Marin and Contra Costa counties.
“Even though it is dropping off dramatically, it’s still at a much higher level than it was at the beginning of December. It’s about six times as high,” said Dr. Sasha Harris-Lovett of the Berkeley Water Center, which analyzes the data, referring to samples taken from San Francisco’s Southeast Treatment Plant.
Alameda County’s sewage samples conversely show that cases are still rapidly on the rise. The same is true for the West County Wastewater District plant in Contra Costa County, which serves Richmond and El Sobrante, and plants in Novato and San Rafael in Marin County.
Tzvieli said that the wastewater samples are promising but do not show a clear trend.
“It’s a little early to tell,” he said. “That data can be a little noisy. It goes up and down a little bit, but I’m really hopeful.”
Harris-Lovett said the data would be updated on Wednesday and may provide a better indicator of virus trends in the region.
“What I would take from it is keep up with your social distancing and masking for a few more weeks,” she said. “Let’s see if we can get the amount of virus circulating down to a manageable level.”
Chronicle data reporter Susie Neilson contributed to this report.
Aidin Vaziri and Erin Allday are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers. Email:,
Erin Allday is a health reporter who writes about infectious diseases, stem cells, neuroscience and consumer health topics like fitness and nutrition. She’s been on the health beat since 2006 (minus a nine-month stint covering Mayor Gavin Newsom). Before joining The Chronicle, Erin worked at newspapers all over the Bay Area and covered a little of everything, including business and technology, city government, and education. She was part of a reporting team that won a Polk Award for regional reporting in 2005, for a series of stories on outsourcing jobs from Santa Rosa to Penang, Malaysia. Erin started her journalism career at the Daily Californian student newspaper and many years later still calls Berkeley her home.


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