From left: Thibault Gusching, 10, at his second appointment for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine administered by Alexandria Morrison in San Francisco, Calif.
Some Bay Area school districts reopened after the winter break with jumps in staff and student absences amid the omicron surge. San Francisco now has the third-highest coronavirus transmission rate in California, with a daily average case rate of about 104 per 100,000 residents. Some Bay Area restaurants are requiring proof of a COVID-19 booster shot to dine indoors in an effort to stay open and keep their employees healthy. Health experts say much of California could see cases peak soon, though several variables are in play.
West Contra Costa Unified tells teachers to upgrade masks: The West Contra Costa School District announced that all school staff members must wear a medical grade KN-95 mask starting Monday. Superintendent Kenneth Chris Hurst said in a release that the wide spike in COVID cases driven by the highly contagious omicron variant warranted the step to help stem transmission. The KN-95 masks will arrive this week and will be distributed to school sites before Monday. Los Angeles County health officials ordered a similar step for school teachers and staff in the county.
San Mateo County sheriff closing its records counter to public: Sheriff’s officials are temporarily closing the office’s criminal records counter to the public “in an effort to protect public health while ensuring the continuity of operations,” authorities said on Tuesday. Officials asked the public to reach the records counter via email at [email protected], by calling 650-363-4525 or by fax to 650-365-9884.
Texas National Guard members refuse shots: Texas officials indicated Tuesday that thousands of National Guard members are refusing COVID-19 vaccines in the latest challenge against a Biden administration order that requires all members of the military to get one, the Associated Press reports. A lawsuit filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton comes a week after a federal judge rejected a similar challenge brought by Oklahoma’s governor, amid growing Republican opposition to the vaccination mandate for Guard members. About 40% of the Army National Guard in Texas are refusing vaccination “for either religious accommodation needs or otherwise,” according to the lawsuit filed in a federal court in East Texas.
S.F. city workers take a hit from virus: San Francisco’s dramatic rise in omicron cases is straining the city’s essential services as hundreds of police officers, firefighters and transit operators began the new year under quarantine. As of Tuesday, 167 San Francisco police officers, 135 fire department personnel and 85 employees in the city’s Municipal Transportation Agency are in quarantine due to a COVID exposure — illustrating just how fast the virus variant has spread through San Francisco in recent weeks. At 829, the city’s current 7-day average of new cases is more than double of last winter’s deadly peak, city health officials said. Read the full story here.
CDC says no test needed to exit from isolation: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday explained the scientific rationale for shortening its COVID-19 isolation and quarantine recommendations, and clarified that the guidance applies to kids as well as adults. The CDC also maintained that for infected people a negative test is not required to emerge from five days of isolation — although White House senior medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci earlier had said that addition to the guidance was being considered. CDC said lab tests can show positive results long after someone stops being contagious, and that a negative at-home test may not necessarily indicate there is no threat. That’s why, the agency said, it was recommending that people wears masks everywhere for the five days after isolation ends. The Tuesday explanation followed last week’s CDC guidance changes that halved the isolation time for Americans who get infected but have no COVID symptoms or only brief illnesses. Isolation should only end if a person has been fever-free for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medications and if other symptoms are resolving, the CDC said.
California schools waiting for test delivery: Millions of COVID-19 self-tests headed to California schools have been delayed by winter weather, forcing districts to start the new semester without enough to distribute to all families. Gov. Gavin Newsom vowed to provide rapid tests to all public school children — about 6 million students — with about 2 million going out before winter break. Millions more were provided earlier in December. Within the last week, 3 million tests were delivered to counties with another 1 million on the way, officials said. “Many others have been delayed by the unprecedented storms the country has seen over the last two weeks,” state health officials told The Chronicle. Read the full story here.
Stanford restricts attendance for indoor sports: Stanford Athletics announced Tuesday it will limit attendance at winter indoor events to only the families of student athletes. For outdoor events, spectators will sit socially distanced and be required to wear a mask. The temporary changes were made “after thorough consultation with medical advisors,” to reduce risk of coronavirus transmmission, the athletics director, Bernard Muir, said in a statement. “Full spectator attendance for all events will resume as soon as appropriate.
Omicron drives record-high California, Bay Area spikes: California reported an enormous spike in coronavirus cases over the holiday weekend, far surpassing the peak of last winter’s surge, with an average of nearly 59,000 cases a day from New Year’s Eve through Monday. The previous high point in cases was January 2021, with an average of about 45,000 cases a day. The Bay Area similarly has reached unprecedented transmission levels fueled by the highly infectious omicron variant: an average of nearly 9,700 cases a day over the four-day holiday weekend. That’s more than double the previous peak averaging about 4,700 cases a day, also from last January. Read the full story here.
COVID testing hits all-time high in S.F.: COVID testing in San Francisco is “at an all-time high right now,” health director Dr. Grant Colfax said Tuesday. Last week, public testing sites conducted about 25,000 tests — nearly double the number from three weeks ago, Colfax said. “Testing sites are booked out and home test kits are hard to come by right now,” he said. “We are urging our health care system partners to also meet additional demand. More rapid tests are also on their way.”
COVID surge at UC Berkeley: Students, faculty and staff experienced the campus’ third highest number of COVID-positive tests in December. Heading into the holidays, 124 people tested by the campus were infected, the university’s dashboard shows. The most cases, 164, showed up the week of Jan. 31 last year, and 146 cases were recorded the week before that. Most cases are among undergrads. Among the 22 tested by the campus Monday, 7 were infected.
Ditch the cloth masks, says S.F. health officer: Plain cloth masks do not offer sufficient protection from the highly contagious omicron coronavirus variant, San Francisco Health Officer Dr. Susan Philip told a Tuesday briefing. She recommended that city residents upgrade to medical-grade N95, KN95 or KF94 masks. If they can’t find those, people should layer a cloth mask over a surgical mask for increased protection. “Cloth masks are least effective right now during omicron,” Philip said. “That is the general message we are working to get out.” While Los Angeles County is requiring its school staff and teachers to wear high-quality masks in the classroom, San Francisco has not made the same recommendation, instead planning a public messaging campaign about masks in the coming weeks. Schools in the city reopened on Monday. “We will give people the information about masking and better qualities of masks,” Philip said, regarding her office’s plans.
S.F. officials cite “skyrocketing” cases: At a sobering Tuesday press briefing on the impact of the omicron variant, Mayor London Breed said San Francisco’s 7-day average of new cases is 829, “more than double last winter’s peak.” The surge is impacting nearly every level of city services, from the police and fire departments to staff at the MTA, she said. Dr. Grant Colfax, head of the Department of Public Health, added, “Cases are skyrocketing in San Francisco like we have never seen before.” He said hospitalizations were also likely to rise in the coming weeks. City officials urged residents to curb their activities and wear better quality masks to avoid putting essential and frontline workers at further risk. But Breed emphasized the city would avoid another shutdown despite the widespread disruptions: “We’re not shutting anything down.”
Marin County first responders must get booster: Marin County is ordering first responders, including law enforcement, fire personnel and EMTs to get COVID-19 booster shots, effective Jan. 28: Officials said Tuesday the mandate means a booster shot or undergoing twice-weekly tests for the virus.
Nearly one third of COVID-positive patients at S.F. General were admitted for something else: San Francisco General Hospital has found that among its patients who test positive for the coronavirus, 30% came in for another reason and then tested positive, said the city’s health chief, Dr. Grant Colfax. About 70% came to the hospital specifically for COVID illness, he told a briefing on Tuesday. Those numbers speak to the omicron variant’s ability to infect many people but not cause symptoms as often as earlier dominant variants.
Marin County sees ‘dramatic increase’ in cases: Health officials in Marin County on Monday reported a dramatic increase of coronavirus cases in the past two weeks. The record number of cases was on Dec. 28 when a pandemic-high of 401 cases in one day was recorded, said the county’s health officer Dr. Matt Willis. The previous record for one day was in early January with 102 cases. People infected with the now-dominant omicran variant of the virus are reporting more cold-like symptoms like sore throat, and less pneumonia-like symptoms like shortness of breath, he said.
L.A. County patient profile shifts: The coronavirus-positive patient count has more than doubled in the last nine days in Los Angeles, Orange and Ventura counties. But a number of the patients who have tested positive in some L.A. County hospitals were admitted for something other than the coronavirus, the Los Angeles Times reports. That is starkly different from what was seen in earlier surges, when most coronavirus-positive patients were hospitalized because they had been sickened by the virus. The trend reflects the nature of the omicron variant, which is highly transmissable but tends to cause less severe symptoms in most people.
San Francisco first responders see jump in exposures: In San Francisco, 186 police department personnel, including 167 sworn officers, and 135 city Fire Department staff, were quarantining as of Tuesday due to exposure to the coronavirus, public health officials said. In addition 85 employees of the Metropolitan Transportation Agency have been exposed to COVID-19 and were entering or were in quarantine. “These departments are prioritizing essential operations and establishing emergency contingency plans to minimize disruption to services.” the health department said.
U.S. records more than 1 million daily COVID cases: The United States on Monday recorded more than 1 million new coronavirus cases — a figure that likely reflects a backlog of test results that were delayed over the holiday weekend, rather than a single day count. But the impact of the highly transmissible omicron variant is clear in a more reliable metric: new COVID-19 infections per day have more than tripled over the past two weeks, with a record-breaking average of 480,000. As of Monday, the 7-day average for new U.S. cases was nearly 597,000, Johns Hopkins University tracking shows. The numbers are likely undercounts, not reflecting at-home rapid tests that are not reported to government agencies. Hospital admissions averaged 12,700 per day last week, up 46% from the previous week, according to the Associated Press. That’s still less than the peak of 16,500 daily hospitalizations a year ago before vaccines were widely available. But as a lagging indicator of pandemic trends, that number could soon shift too as the rate of new cases continues to grow unabated.
California prosecutor who opposed vaccine mandates dies of COVID-19: Kelly Ernby, a deputy district attorney and prominent Republican Assembly candidate in Orange County, has died from complications COVID-19. She was 46 years old. Ernby became ill after speaking at a Dec. 4 rally against coronavirus vaccine mandates organized by Turning Point USA. “There’s nothing that matters more than our freedoms right now,” she said at the event at Irvine City Hall, according to the Daily Titan. Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer tweeted, “It was an absolute privilege to fight the good fight alongside Kelly.”
Pandemic job disruption sees millions changing or quitting work: An estimated 4.5 million workers quit or changed jobs in November, according to the Department of Labor, as labor shortages have helped create one of the most worker-friendly job climates in years, the Washington Post reports. The report shows a trend of high turnover in the labor market, continuing the two-year economic upheaval of pandemic. Even with jobs coming back, many businesses have found it hard to retain workers, as many employees have used the pandemic to reevaluate their situations, lured by hiring bonuses, more-flexible hours or better working conditions. The number quitting in November surpassed the previous record of 4.4 million in September.
New variant detected in France no cause for concern, experts say: A new coronavirus variant has been discovered by researchers at IHU Mediterranee Infection in France, according to a non-peer-reviewed report published in the journal MedRxiv. The variant, B.1.640.2, was discovered on Dec. 10 and contains 46 mutations — more than the highly-mutated omicron. Those include the N501Y mutation, which could make it more transmissible, and the E484K mutation, which may make it more resistant to vaccines. But so far it has only infected 12 people in the Marseille region of France and scientists are not concerned that it could take off the same way as omicron. “This virus has had a decent chance to cause trouble but never really materialised,” Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College in England, said on Twitter, adding B.1.640.2 was “not one worth worrying about too much.
Omicron now accounts for 95% of new cases in the US: The rapidly spreading coronavirus variant has become the dominant strain in the nation in less than a month, accounting for 95.4% of new COVID-19 infections last week, according to data posted Tuesday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For the week ending Dec. 11, omicron made up just 8% of new infections.
CDC recommends getting Pfizer booster 5 months after first doses: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday that anyone eligible for a COVID-19 booster from Pfizer should get the extra shot five months after completing the first regimen of two doses. That’s a change from the agency’s previous recommendation of waiting six months for a Pfizer booster.
How to manage your COVID quarantine or isolation in the Bay Area: With coronavirus infection rates on the rise in the Bay Area, an increasing number of people are isolating or quarantining at home. If you’re caught in the thick of it — through infection or exposure — you might need a guide on what to do as you stay home, or recover. Here are the answers to frequently asked questions about isolation and quarantine.
Thousands of Bay Area students returned to schools Monday amid omicron surge. Here’s how it went: As many Bay Area districts reopened Monday after a two-week winter break, some schools saw a jump in staff and student absences amid skyrocketing coronavirus cases as omicron continued to rage through the region. Read the full story here.
Fifth & Mission Podcast — How the omicron surge is different: Even as case counts surpass last winter’s surge just as kids return to school, there are reasons to be optimistic. Listen to the episode here.
These data sources are tracking San Francisco’s omicron surge. Which one is best?: San Francisco is in the middle of an omicron wave. But the recent trajectory of that wave looks different depending on the data source. So which source is best for looking at recent case counts in San Francisco? It depends on what you want to know. Read the full story here.
S.F. has 3rd highest COVID transmission rate in California: San Francisco now has the third-highest coronavirus transmission rate in California, with a daily average case rate of about 104 per 100,000 residents. The county recorded a seven-day average of 896 cases per day on Dec. 30, the most recent available data. That is more than double the previous peak of 388 cases, a seven-day average recorded on Jan. 12 last year. Read the full story here.
These Bay Area restaurants and bars are requiring booster shots to eat indoors: As the omicron variant continues to surge through the Bay Area, some restaurants are taking an additional precaution to stay open and keep their employees healthy: requiring proof of the COVID-19 booster shot to dine indoors. Read the full story here.
Hospitalizations spiking in Bay Area: The number of hospital patients infected with COVID-19 is the highest it’s been since late September, and climbing. Data analyzed by The Chronicle shows the Bay Area with 671 patients testing positive as the new year broke, as the numbers have climbed since mid-November with the rise of the omicron variant and the delta variant’s persistence.
FDA expands Pfizer boosters for more teens as omicron surges: The U.S. is expanding COVID-19 boosters following an authorization by the Food and Drug Administration permitting Pfizer shots for children as young as 12, the Associated Press reported.
Los Angeles County teachers required to upgrade masks: Teachers and staff in the nation’s largest school district are required to wear high-grade masks to control the spread of the coronavirus, according to updated guidance from the LA County Public Health Department. That means surgical grade or better. Masks will also be required for all outdoor activities at schools where physical distancing is not possible. “During this surge, given the spread of a more infectious strain of the virus, lapses can lead to explosive transmission,” Barbara Ferrer, the county’s health director, said in a statement. “Well-fitting and high-quality masks are an essential layer of protection when people are in close contact with others, especially when indoors or in outdoor crowded spaces where distancing is not possible. … The physical barrier tendered by a mask is known to reduce the spread of virus particles.”
Dominic Fracassa is an assistant metro editor overseeing breaking news and criminal justice in San Francisco. He previously covered San Francisco City Hall as a staff writer.