With the Omicron-fueled surge propelling SF to its highest COVID-19 rates since the start of the pandemic, Mayor London N. Breed and Director of Health, Dr. Grant Colfax are urging San Franciscans to layer their defenses, including taking reasonable measures to lower their risk exposure to the virus where possible to slow transmission and keep schools, hospitals, homeless shelters, and other essential services operating. Additional City resources are being deployed, and health safety measures implemented in response to the surge to minimize the impact.
An average of 829 San Franciscans a day are contracting COVID-19 (as of December 27), which is more than double that of last winter’s peak at 373 cases per day. While 81% of San Franciscans are vaccinated, and 54% of vaccinated residents have been boosted, the highly contagious Omicron-variant is still able to spread as breakthrough infections, often asymptomatically or with mild illness. This raises the prospects that frontline workers could become infected and be temporarily unable to work, impacting SF’s delivery of essential services.
“San Franciscans have shown over and over that they know what to do to take care of each other and protect public health,” said Mayor London Breed. “We have one of the highest vaccination rates of any major city, and all of our City workers, including those on the front lines, are vaccinated against the virus. But even with all that, this new variant is putting us through some challenging times, especially as people are testing positive and required to isolate. While this will be tough and people should take steps to protect themselves and their families, I’m confident we will be able to continue to provide the services our residents deserve, and we will get through these weeks ahead.”
While hospitalization rates as a fraction of cases are expected to be lower with Omicron, the sheer number of people getting infected means SF is experiencing increased demand for hospital beds at a time when staff is also contracting the virus because of high community spread.
“The next several weeks are absolutely critical, it is within our power to limit the damage of this latest surge but we need everybody’s help,” said Director of Health, Dr. Grant Colfax. “SF is in a relatively good position compared to other municipalities. Our high rates of vaccinations and boosters are doing what we need them to do, which is prevent severe illness and disease. But the Omicron variant is challenging us even more than Delta to manage this disease while keeping our economy, schools and other essential services open. We need to quickly adapt to periods of high transmission, like right now. For the individual that means lowering your risk exposure where possible so we can protect our critical infrastructure, and for SF that means deploying the right resources to beat back the spread of the virus.”
SF’s priority right now is to protect essential services and the most vulnerable populations. In response to the surge, SF Department of Public Health (SFDPH)-affiliated sites have rapidly expanded to more than 25,000 tests a week across SF, nearly doubling capacity from three weeks ago. SFDPH is currently conducting about half of all COVID-19 tests in SF and is prioritizing disaster service workers and symptomatic individuals for testing. SFDPH has also ordered test kits from suppliers to support first responders and the most vulnerable, such as residents and staff of skilled nursing facilities. These will begin to arrive in weekly deliveries starting mid-January.
Some of SF’s other efforts include:
- Expanded hours and additional appointments and drop-ins for vaccinations and boosters at SFDPH-affiliated and health systems partner sites, including mobile pop-up events at schools and focused efforts on reaching all long-term care facilities and senior housing in SF.
- Coordinating with other healthcare systems across SF to support SFDPH hospital systems and to further expand testing and vaccine hours.
- Updates to SF’s Safer Return Together health order requiring boosters for health care workers and in other high-risk settings, and temporarily suspending the mask exemption for limited settings like offices and gyms to lower the chance of spread among groups of vaccinated people.
- Limiting the number of visitors and requiring on-site testing at skilled nursing facilities.
- New safety protocol at homeless shelters that enable the continuation of services by grouping residents based on COVID-19 status.
With children returning to school this week after the holiday break, SFDPH reaffirms that schools have been low-risk settings with the proper safety protocols in place and that even with the certainty of additional cases, the mental health and educational impacts on students due to social isolation far outweigh the challenges of in-person learning.
Residents can do many things to protect themselves and their community and lower the level of risk exposure in households. Consider taking additional measures during times of high transmission, such as getting vaccinated/boosted, upgrading masks, working from home if possible, or limiting time spent in crowded, indoor settings.
As of today, January 4, 186 SFPD members, including 167 sworn officers, 135 SFFD staff, and 85 SFMTA personnel have been exposed to COVID-19 and have entered or are entering quarantine. These departments are prioritizing essential operations and establishing emergency contingency plans to minimize disruption to services.
How to stay safe:
- Have everyone ages 5+ get their COVID-19 vaccine and booster if eligible.
- Anyone who develops symptoms of COVID-19 should isolate themselves and get tested as soon as possible.
- Get tested before travel, upon return, and again 3-5 days later.
- Take advantage of quick and easy home test kits available in pharmacies and stores.
- Outside gatherings are safer than indoor gatherings. Limit the number and size of indoor gatherings.
- Take all precautions, including vaccinations, boosters, and testing when gathering with others without masks – especially with elderly or immunocompromised individuals, and anyone who is unvaccinated or not yet boosted.
- Wear a well-fitted mask indoors and in crowded settings. To best protect yourself, wear an N95 or double mask with a cloth mask over a surgical mask to improve the seal. If possible, avoid wearing only a cloth mask during this surge.
- Unvaccinated adults should avoid travel and gatherings outside their household.
- Wash hands or use hand sanitizer often.
- Layer your defenses, and reduce your household’s risk exposure during periods of high transmission, like the current omicron surge.
What to do if you test positive for COVID:
Individuals who test positive, including if they are asymptomatic, should assume they are infected with COVID-19 and take measures to get care and isolate away from others. Additionally, they should notify their healthcare provider about their positive test result and stay in contact with them during their illness. Individuals who do not have a provider or need assistance with isolation can connect with the SFDPH COVID Resource Center at (628) 217-6101.
More information about what to do if you test positive can be found here.
Other COVID-19 resources:
- Isolation and Quarantine guidelines can be found here: https://www.sfdph.org/dph/COVID-19/Isolation-and-Quarantine.asp
- For a list of testing sites in SF, go to: sf.gov/gettested
- For a list of vaccination and booster sites in SF, go to: sf.gov/getvaccinated
- More SF COVID data can be found here: sf.gov/resource/2021/covid-19-data-and-reports