The Bay Area is California’s COVID access point as cases increase again.

If you are concerned about COVID, it may be time to remove this mask.

California case rates have nearly tripled since late March, and in an emerging dynamic, bay area rates are higher than state rates.

“It’s the first time we’ve seen it,” said John Swartzberg, professor emeritus of infectious diseases and vaccinology at the University of California-Berkeley. “It’s always been the other way around.”

Case rates here are some of the worst in California right now, as new highly contagious variants continue to spread. The San Francisco case rate is more than double the state rate, with a 7-day average of more than 30 new cases per 100,000 population, according to data updated Friday.

The cases are still only a tenth of what they were during the dramatic peak of January 2022, from the fatal rise in omicrons. But with most vaccine restrictions and mask warrants a thing of the past, the Bay Area is seeing more than three times as many positive cases as about six weeks ago, after the winter hike would have decreased. Statewide hospitalizations have increased 12 percent, from a low of 1,224 inpatients with COVID on April 25 to more than 1,369 on Thursday.

The situation in the Bay Area and California continues to increase in cases across much of the country. Cases across the country have risen 170 percent since late March to levels not seen since February, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hospitalizations have increased by 16% over the previous week and deaths from VOCID have begun to rise after steady falls since February.

Transmission levels are high along the west coast, northeast and the Great Lakes and parts of southern Texas and Florida, according to CDC data. And community levels, intended to indicate the impact of the virus on regional health care, are at the average yellow level in the Bay Area and 10% of the country as a whole. This is a level at which the CDC says high-risk people should consider wearing a mask. Much of the Northeast is at a high level where the CDC recommends that everyone wear masks inside.

San Francisco was the first county in the region to experience an increase in cases during the current wave, already in mid-March, followed by Santa Clara, San Mateo and then the others. All of these counties have had higher case rates than the state for several weeks, although historically they have had lower case rates than the rest of the state for most of the pandemic.

The problem today: According to experts, case rates do not count the number of viruses that are spreading, especially now.

“There is a big disconnect between the reported cases and the actual number of cases,” said Swartzberg, who noted the research shows that a lower proportion of cases are now being detected and counted than in other recent waves.

This is because more people use fast home tests that are not counted as PCR tests done in labs.

What is driving the new rise in cases?

Dr. George Rutherford, an infectious disease specialist at UC-San Francisco, noted the increase in a combination of factors.

The highly transmissible omicron variant that caused a massive wave of infections during the winter, BA.1, has spawned even more contagious cousins, known as BA.2, now 62% of cases nationwide, and BA.2.12 .1, now 37%, According to the CDC. In addition, the protection that many of us got from a previous infection and vaccination is fading.

“For those who became naturally infected in December or January, this immunity is starting to decline now,” Rutherford said. “Pre-infection with the normal BA.1 strain provides almost no protection against BA.2.12.1.”

And while the bay area is among the most vaccinated regions in the country, the protection from infections has also been reduced, although they still protect against serious disease. Without a booster shot, and less of us got the initial shot, its protection against infection is not so good now.

“Vaccines were great for preventing serious illness and preventing death, but their ability to prevent infection diminishes over time,” Rutherford said, adding that those arriving should receive reinforcements.

You may also want to dig into your N95 when you gather inside. Most mask orders, of course, were lifted in March, and federal officials also reduced mask requirements last month for public transportation, including air travel, commuter trains, buses and services. transport with Uber.

“People have stopped wearing masks and are taking risks,” Rutherford said.

Serious illnesses and hospitalizations have not increased as much as infections, but Rutherford said there is no reason to be complacent about the virus. Even a mild infection can change your life for a week or so of quarantine and isolation due to the rules to prevent the spread of the virus at work and school. But there is also the risk of developing the so-called Long COVID, a persistence of symptoms that doctors do not yet fully understand.

“I find it more convincing than anything else,” Rutherford said, citing figures that 30 percent of those infected “still have it a year later.”

“It’s miserable,” Rutherford said. “If I had to go to a movie theater, if I went to a grocery store, I’d wear a mask. In most indoor environments, the best part is wearing a mask, at least for a while here. ”

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