The number of cases continues to increase in the Bay Area, where nearly 3,800 people have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. But they are climbing much slower than they were even a week ago.
In San Francisco, the public health department reported slightly fewer new cases last week than the week before, and although this may be due to fluctuations in tests and notifications, it is still a surprising change from last month’s steady upward trend.
“At this point it seems to be the start of a flattening trend. This is beyond doubt for some counties, “said Travis Porco, a UCSF biostatistician who has tracked several data points to track the progress of the Bay Area epidemic. “I am definitely optimistic and careful.”
The pandemic is exploding in the United States, which has reported nearly 360,000 cases, more than double any other country. Over 10,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the United States
And over the weekend, President Trump and other national leaders prepared the country for a difficult week ahead as parts of the country – including New York, New Jersey, Michigan and Louisiana – faced explosive epidemics that in some places are already overwhelming healthcare systems.
While the Bay Area may show signs of a much better situation than the rest of the country, there are still pockets of concern, including alarming epidemics at the Laguna Honda nursing home and a residential care facility in Orinda. And San Francisco has reported three cases of COVID-19 among the homeless, including two in the region’s largest shelter, which worries public health officials about the risk of more widespread illness among a particularly vulnerable population.
Dr. Susan Philip, director of disease prevention and control at the San Francisco Department of Public Health, said Monday that, although she is encouraged to see evidence that the epidemic is weakening, she expects to that the number of cases continues to increase as the tests intensify.
“Although we are still taking good news, it is too early to say that we are out of the woods,” said Philip. “We don’t want people to feel like it’s time to give up. We are still concerned about a flare-up, and we don’t want a lot of people to get sick at the same time. “
State and local leaders have warned that even with social distancing practices in place, California can expect to see a rising tide in people requiring hospital care in the coming weeks. The state is expected to reach the peak of its epidemic in May.
It is later than in other parts of the country, because so far the state has managed to reduce the number of people infected. Even with placement orders, some people will continue to get sick – from the hospital and other health care facilities, for example, or go out into the community, even if they take precautions – but these numbers will do so, we hope it will remain manageable for the state’s health care structure.
Infectious disease experts are increasingly convinced that the region could emerge from its epidemic with far less damage than they once feared, probably largely due to early and aggressive efforts to encourage physical distance. Three weeks ago, six counties in the Bay Area were the first in the country to order residents to take shelter there.
UC Berkeley infectious disease expert Art Reingold said he was “optimistic” that the Bay Area would be able to avoid a devastating wave at local hospitals if residents could continue to comply with prescriptions stay at home.
“The hope is that these early and vigorous efforts by various countries will bear fruit,” said Reingold, “and that we will have nothing like the type of upward trajectory in the coming weeks than other cities in the states. -United States seem to know each other. “
In the Bay Area, last week was the first since the epidemic began in early March that the region had not seen new cases double from the previous week, according to Chronicle analysis. From March 1 to April 4, 1,666 new cases were reported, an increase of about 50% from the previous week.
The trend continues in the different counties of the bay region. San Francisco stands out as the only major county to see the number of new cases drop, but by just three: 221 last week versus 224 the week before. Santa Clara County, which is behind the regional epidemic, reported 557 new cases last week – an increase of 70%, but still an improvement from doubling week to week.
Counting cases is an imperfect means of tracking pandemic trends, in part because the number of people screened is insufficient and testing varies from week to week. Testing has increased in recent weeks, and Porco said he and other statisticians are trying to determine what effect this has had on county case reports.
But the fact that the number of cases is not faster than it was two weeks ago is encouraging since tests have also increased during this period, said Porco.
“You see a flattening of the curve, and even a noticeable drop in new cases per day,” he said. “I would like to see good lasting evidence of this now.” “
Aside from the number of cases, there are other signs of moving in the right direction for the Bay Area, said infectious disease experts. Several counties have recently started reporting the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 every day, and although they have climbed, they are not moving quickly.
Statewide, Governor Gavin Newsom said Monday that 2,509 people were hospitalized, 1,085 of whom were in intensive care. About 450 people are hospitalized in the Bay Area, according to the California Department of Public Health, although the numbers reported are slightly lower than those from different counties.
More than 15,000 people tested positive for COVID-19 in California and 372 people died.
“We can’t let cabin fever enter. We cannot allow people to come together again, “said Newsom. “Let’s stay on the line, let’s keep doing the good work we have done so far. Keep these numbers below these worst case projections. “
Erin Allday is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]