When will the omicron surge peak in the San Francisco Bay Area? – SFGATE

A woman wears a face mask walking down Chestnut Street in San Francisco on Jan. 4, 2022.
Like the rest of the country, the San Francisco Bay Area is recording an unprecedented number of COVID-19 cases, driven by the highly contagious omicron variant. San Francisco’s seven-day average was 1,525 new cases a day as of Jan. 4, more than four times last winter’s peak of 373 cases per day.
But how much longer will this explosion of cases last, and when will we hit the peak?
The answer is soon, public health officials and experts said. 
S.F. Health Director Dr. Grant Colfax said at a Tuesday press conference that cases and hospitalizations will continue to climb in coming days, but he suggested the peak is in sight. “We have reason to believe that we could turn the corner soon, but we’re not there yet,” Colfax said.
Dr. Jeanne Noble, the director of COVID response at the UCSF emergency department, is working on the front lines of the pandemic and said the peak could come as early as about Jan. 15. “Although it is still hard to predict and could be a bit longer,” Noble said.
Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious diseases expert at UCSF, speculated it may peak within the next week. “South Africa peaked in 3-4 weeks after their omicron surge commenced (just before Thanksgiving),” Chin-Hong wrote in an email. “London is descending from their surge, and New York and DC have likely plateaued already (they have a head start on us by about two weeks).”
The number of people in hospitals with COVID usually peaks two or more weeks after the surge in cases, but experts told SFGATE hospitalizations in the omicron surge may not lag as much as they did with previous variants. This is because many of those hospitalized with COVID went to the hospital for other reasons, such as a hip fracture or a bowel obstruction, and happened to test positive with no symptoms. The proportion of people hospitalized in California with serious illness due to COVID is much lower now than it was at this time last year when vaccines were scarce. Some 79% of cases in California are now caused by the omicron variant, which multiple studies say causes more mild illness than previous strains of the virus. 
After reviewing the charts of every COVID-positive patient at UCSF hospitals on Jan. 4, Noble determined that 70% of them were in the hospital for other reasons. Last week, Marin County recorded a spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations. But of the 19 people hospitalized in the county, at least 42% were incidental cases, including five patients in a psychiatric ward who had no symptoms of the virus.
Nevertheless, Chin-Hong said nailing down exactly when hospitalizations will peak is difficult, and he expects “an unpredictable slow burn for several weeks in the hospital,” with the peak in hospitalizations hitting in late January and continuing into February.   
“South Africa’s hospitalizations peaked 4 weeks after the surge started, but our population is significantly older and there is a bigger population of severely immunocompromised patients which may lead to a more unpredictable hospital curve here,” Chin-Hong wrote. “So far there is less of a run in ICU bed use fortunately so ventilator shortage is less of an issue in California … compared to previous surges.”
Colfax said while hospitalizations are increasing in the city, the “numbers are not climbing nearly at the level that they would have if we didn’t have such great coverage with vaccines.” In San Francisco, 85% of the eligible population (residents 5 and over) is fully vaccinated.
“We are optimistic that because of our city’s high vaccination and booster rates, we will get through this omicron surge without running out of those all-important intensive care unit beds,” Colfax said.
Even with the peak likely near, public health officials are continuing to urge anyone who hasn’t gotten vaccinated or boosted to do so immediately. “If you are up to date on your vaccinations, it is extremely unlikely you would be hospitalized due to COVID,” Colfax said.
Amy Graff is the news editor for SFGATE. She was born and raised in the Bay Area and got her start in news at the Daily Californian newspaper at UC Berkeley where she majored in English literature. She has been with SFGATE for more than 10 years. You can email her at agraff@sfgate.com.


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