The Perfect Enemy | San Francisco COVID positive test at second-highest level ever
July 5, 2022

San Francisco COVID positive test at second-highest level ever

San Francisco COVID positive test at second-highest level ever  San Francisco Chronicle

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The coronavirus test positivity rate in San Francisco, which tracks the percentage of tests coming back positive for COVID-19, topped 14% on Wednesday, according to city data. That is the second-highest rate the city has reached to date.

“Cases are high — they are still high — although they are lower than during the omicron surge of BA.1 this winter,” said Dr. Susan Philip, the city’s health officer during a health commission meeting Tuesday.

The seven-day average climbed up to 18.9% this January during the winter surge before dropping to 2.4% in mid-March. It has been rising steadily since and is now far higher than the statewide average of 8.9%.

A rule of thumb among infectious disease experts is that 5% is considered “too high,” according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

San Francisco reached a pre-omicron peak of 13.4% in April 2020.

Medical Assistant Cindy Mont, left, administers a COVID test on Victor Torres, a food delivery driver who delivers food to people under quarantine, at a community testing site managed by Unidos En Salud in the Mission District of San Francisco, California Friday, Jan. 7, 2022.

Stephen Lam / The Chronicle

Alongside Santa Clara and San Mateo, San Francisco is the county with the highest coronavirus infection rate in the state. It reported an average of 57 cases per 100,000 residents as of Friday, the most recent day with confirmed data. That is up from about 43 per 100,000 a month ago. And that number is likely an undercount since many people now rely on at-home tests that don’t usually get reported or added to official case counts.

George Lemp, an infectious disease expert who is retired from the University of California, said in an email to The Chronicle that case numbers may be four times higher than what is reported.

“It is unfortunate that current cases of Omicron BA.2/BA.2.12.1 are highly underreported,” he said. “This makes it very difficult to track pandemic trends and to assess current prevention efforts. We are somewhat limited to tracking hospitalizations, deaths, and to conducting wastewater surveillance. In other countries, such as England, large population-based sampling serosurveys have provided much more information on the scope and trends of the epidemic.”

The uptick comes as San Francisco’s new budget eliminates funding for multiple community coronavirus test sites in the Mission and Bayview districts, some of the city’s hardest-hit neighborhoods by the coronavirus.

“Our health programs would close in the next 30 days,” Ivan Corado-Vega, manager for the Latino Task Force, told ABC. His organization has tested more than 90,000 people and vaccinated more than 60,000 since establishing the sites, which employ nearly 200 people.

Community leaders say with the city experiencing another surge of cases and hospitalizations, the results of the cuts could be devastating. There were 86 people in the hospital with COVID in San Francisco as of Wednesday — a nearly 50% increase in the past month.

“At our testing sites, we are seeing double-digit positive rates. At both of our sites here in the Mission. For the Excelsior site, we are seeing positive rates in the 20s, so COVID is here,” said Corado-Vega.

San Francisco Board of Supervisors President Shamann Walton said shutting down the testing sites is “devastating to our communities of need.”

Mayor London Breed’s office blamed state and federal officials for the lack of resources.

“There will be less funding overall for our COVID response in our upcoming budget,” it said in a statement. “But the mayor’s budget still includes $57 million for San Francisco’s ongoing COVID response in the upcoming budget, including $3 million for community hubs.”

Five Bay Area counties — Marin, Napa, Santa Clara, Solano and Sonoma — are in the highest risk category as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And Alameda County became the first in the state to reinstate a local indoor mask mandate, largely in response to spiking COVID hospitalizations.

Health officials in San Francisco and other Bay Area counties have so far resisted reimposing any mitigation measures, despite waning vaccine immunity and the rapid emergence of multiple coronavirus variants.

“Severe disease resulting in hospitalizations is not as high as during the winter surge, fortunately,” Philip said. “We now have readily available high-quality masks like N95s, KN95s and KF94s. Most importantly, we have among the highest rates of vaccination in the world in our city.”

Aidin Vaziri (he/him) is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: