San Francisco's current COVID surge sees 500 new cases a day, so where are the restrictions?

COVID-19 cases are once again surging here in the Bay Area with an average of 500 new cases every day in San Francisco. But this time around, we aren't' seeing city and county governments across the region implementing new COVID restrictions. Most people appear to be living their lives as close to what was once considered normal. 

While the pandemic shifts towards an endemic stage, this latest surge is leading to an increase in hospitalizations. 

Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease expert at UCSF, said the difference with the current surge is that the hospital isn't reacting to what's happening in the community as quickly as before. "We're kind of seeing a slow burn increase in the hospitalization rate. And we probably won't get to where we were in January for example." 

Chin-Hong said UCSF currently has 41 patients at four hospitals with COVID. He clarifies some of those diagnosed are incidental, meaning they could have been hospitalized for other reasons. By comparison, in January, at the height of the omicron surge, that number of patients was 152. Also in January nearly 20 patients with COVID were on ventilators, compared with one person currently.

Chin-Hong said the silver lining in this scenario is that on the East Coast, in areas like Rhode Island and New York, their surge is already dissipating. 

"Hopefully, by the end of the month, we may be past that danger zone," he said.

MORE: Vaccines don't always protect infected from 'long Covid,' new research shows

This time around, with the latest omicron variant surge, we haven't seen many COVID restrictions, like mask mandates, put in place. In fact, the loosening of those restrictions continue. BART, has been a notable outlier in keeping their mask mandate in place on its trains and on platforms at all of their stations. 

Earlier this month, 12 Bay Area health officials recommended that people return to wearing masks indoors to help slow the spread of the current surge, but this is not required. 

Last week there was disappointing news on the COVID vaccine's ability to protect against long COVID – the wide range of more than two-dozen lingering or recurring symptoms that can first appear at least one month after a coronavirus infection. These may include; fatigue, shortness of breath, brain fog and blood clots. A published study of veterans showed that as many as one-third of those who had breakthrough infections (veterans who were vaccinated), showed signs of long COVID. The research suggests older adults face higher risk for these long-term effects. 

A separate report issued last week from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that up to a year after an initial coronavirus infection, 1 in 4 adults aged 65 and older had at least one potential long COVID health problem, compared with 1 in 5 younger adults.

Despite this ominous news, Chin-Hong said he doesn't see a return to community-wide restrictions, but a more targeted and local approach. "Some schools have already brought back masks. In hospitals, where I work, masks never went away," he said. He elaborated that only in the event of a dramatic increase in COVID-related hospitalizations, would we see a return to restrictions. 

The California Department of Public Health has seen a steady increase of COVID test positivity over the last month. On May 24 they reported a 6.6% test positivity rate. That figure reached 7% on May 27. On Tuesday, the state's test positivity rate had reached 7.9%. 

San Francisco County reported a total of 141,375 cases on Tuesday and 879 deaths (there were 139,806 cases and 879 deaths on Friday). 

Wire services contributed to this report.