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Counties face a 'dramatic and breathtaking explosion' of COVID cases

Coming weeks will be challenging, health officials say

Moanzelle Huevos, a medical assistant with Worksite Labs, directs Karen Brux, a Woodside High School parent, through a self-swab at a COVID-19 test site at Woodside High School in Woodside on Jan. 10, 2022. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Santa Clara and San Mateo counties are now seeing more COVID-19 cases than at any other time during the pandemic, health officials told their respective boards of supervisors on Tuesday.

The current seven-day average of new positive cases in Santa Clara County now exceeds 4,000 per day, Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said. Those numbers don't include the COVID-19-positive antigen tests people are taking at home, which health officials have no way of tracking, she said.

Cody called the case rate a "dramatic and really breathtaking explosion of cases," adding that the peak of infections might not arrive for weeks. State models indicate it could be sometime in early February or later. After cases reach their highest level, hospitalizations are expected to peak.

"We're facing some very, very difficult weeks ahead," she said.

Wastewater surveillance, which the county uses to track the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus causing COVID-19 infections, has increased sharply in all four sewersheds in the past two weeks, she noted. The current concentration has surpassed last winter's surge. On Friday, Jan. 14, however, Cody gave an update during a press conference that all four sewersheds are showing a downturn in numbers, a hopeful sign.

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San Mateo County Health Chief Louise Rogers said the load of positive cases is a challenge.

"We are working through a difficult period in every sector, resulting in strains on the systems we all rely on. This is the highest number of cases we have ever experienced," she said.

San Mateo County's rate soared from an average of 79 new cases per day last week to 905 this week. On some days, the county had between 1,000 and more than 1,500 positive cases, she said.

In both counties, people have been flocking to hospital emergency rooms for COVID-19 tests, when they failed to easily find test appointments elsewhere. Health care officials have been trying to redirect the test-seekers away from the ERs.

Cody and Rogers also said that vaccinations are significantly reducing hospitalizations. In a dramatic graph of hospitalizations by vaccination status of people ages 18 and older, Cody noted that the seven-day rolling average showed that hospitalizations among unvaccinated residents are 20 times higher compared with those who had been fully vaccinated in Santa Clara County.

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Residents who didn't receive their boosters had twice the case rate of breakthrough infections over those who had received their booster shots, she said. So far, 789,129, or 60%, of eligible residents have received a booster shot. Overall, 82.5% of residents have been vaccinated.

Vaccines and boosters are "a very, very, very, very important part" of staving off infections and reducing the severity of illness in breakthrough cases. The data "shows how well vaccines reduce your chance of becoming a case," she said.

But Cody added the reputed "mildness" of the omicron variant can be deceiving. The word "mild" has a different meaning to doctors than to patients. When doctors talk of a mild infection, they are speaking about not ending up in the hospital or on oxygen, Cody noted.

"That's different than a layperson thinking they get to watch TV in bed and drink a hot beverage," she said.

So far, the death rate has been relatively flat, another possible benefit of vaccinations. Currently, Santa Clara County has five to 10 deaths per week. In early January 2021, when vaccines were not widely available, 160 residents died, Cody noted.

Cody and Rogers are cautiously optimistic the death rate in the current surge — the fifth since the pandemic began — will be significantly lower due to the high numbers of vaccinated residents in both counties and the omicron variant's possibly less severe infection. The next few weeks will show where the numbers are headed.

Rogers noted the hospital system could still be overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of people who become infected by the more transmissible omicron strain. A certain percentage of those people will have severe illness, she noted.

If there's good news, it's that transmission rates of COVID-19 are relatively low in schools. Most children are becoming infected at family gatherings, Nancy Magee, San Mateo County's superintendent of schools, told the supervisors.

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Sue Dremann is a veteran journalist who joined the Palo Alto Weekly in 2001. She is a breaking news and general assignment reporter who also covers the regional environmental, health and crime beats. Read more >>

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Counties face a 'dramatic and breathtaking explosion' of COVID cases

Coming weeks will be challenging, health officials say

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Wed, Jan 12, 2022, 9:37 am
Updated: Fri, Jan 14, 2022, 5:50 pm

Santa Clara and San Mateo counties are now seeing more COVID-19 cases than at any other time during the pandemic, health officials told their respective boards of supervisors on Tuesday.

The current seven-day average of new positive cases in Santa Clara County now exceeds 4,000 per day, Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said. Those numbers don't include the COVID-19-positive antigen tests people are taking at home, which health officials have no way of tracking, she said.

Cody called the case rate a "dramatic and really breathtaking explosion of cases," adding that the peak of infections might not arrive for weeks. State models indicate it could be sometime in early February or later. After cases reach their highest level, hospitalizations are expected to peak.

"We're facing some very, very difficult weeks ahead," she said.

Wastewater surveillance, which the county uses to track the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus causing COVID-19 infections, has increased sharply in all four sewersheds in the past two weeks, she noted. The current concentration has surpassed last winter's surge. On Friday, Jan. 14, however, Cody gave an update during a press conference that all four sewersheds are showing a downturn in numbers, a hopeful sign.

San Mateo County Health Chief Louise Rogers said the load of positive cases is a challenge.

"We are working through a difficult period in every sector, resulting in strains on the systems we all rely on. This is the highest number of cases we have ever experienced," she said.

San Mateo County's rate soared from an average of 79 new cases per day last week to 905 this week. On some days, the county had between 1,000 and more than 1,500 positive cases, she said.

In both counties, people have been flocking to hospital emergency rooms for COVID-19 tests, when they failed to easily find test appointments elsewhere. Health care officials have been trying to redirect the test-seekers away from the ERs.

Cody and Rogers also said that vaccinations are significantly reducing hospitalizations. In a dramatic graph of hospitalizations by vaccination status of people ages 18 and older, Cody noted that the seven-day rolling average showed that hospitalizations among unvaccinated residents are 20 times higher compared with those who had been fully vaccinated in Santa Clara County.

Residents who didn't receive their boosters had twice the case rate of breakthrough infections over those who had received their booster shots, she said. So far, 789,129, or 60%, of eligible residents have received a booster shot. Overall, 82.5% of residents have been vaccinated.

Vaccines and boosters are "a very, very, very, very important part" of staving off infections and reducing the severity of illness in breakthrough cases. The data "shows how well vaccines reduce your chance of becoming a case," she said.

But Cody added the reputed "mildness" of the omicron variant can be deceiving. The word "mild" has a different meaning to doctors than to patients. When doctors talk of a mild infection, they are speaking about not ending up in the hospital or on oxygen, Cody noted.

"That's different than a layperson thinking they get to watch TV in bed and drink a hot beverage," she said.

So far, the death rate has been relatively flat, another possible benefit of vaccinations. Currently, Santa Clara County has five to 10 deaths per week. In early January 2021, when vaccines were not widely available, 160 residents died, Cody noted.

Cody and Rogers are cautiously optimistic the death rate in the current surge — the fifth since the pandemic began — will be significantly lower due to the high numbers of vaccinated residents in both counties and the omicron variant's possibly less severe infection. The next few weeks will show where the numbers are headed.

Rogers noted the hospital system could still be overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of people who become infected by the more transmissible omicron strain. A certain percentage of those people will have severe illness, she noted.

If there's good news, it's that transmission rates of COVID-19 are relatively low in schools. Most children are becoming infected at family gatherings, Nancy Magee, San Mateo County's superintendent of schools, told the supervisors.

Comments

TimR
Registered user
Downtown North
on Jan 13, 2022 at 10:24 pm
TimR, Downtown North
Registered user
on Jan 13, 2022 at 10:24 pm
Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 14, 2022 at 7:50 am
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Jan 14, 2022 at 7:50 am

And yet, today's morning news says that looking at sewage shows that the surge is declining. We have reached the peak. That is now good news.


Chris
Registered user
University South
on Jan 14, 2022 at 11:34 am
Chris, University South
Registered user
on Jan 14, 2022 at 11:34 am

More and more big events are being cancelled or performed without audiences - SF Ballet, SF Symphony, Stanford sports. A lot will depend on how people behave in their personal lives.

A few days ago, I saw about 100 people packed together like sardines, waiting to get in Ramen Nagi.


Hinrich
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Jan 14, 2022 at 7:15 pm
Hinrich, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Jan 14, 2022 at 7:15 pm

Wastewater? Is that a reliable indicator? According to the CDC - ‘… it is not possible to reliably and accurately predict the number of infected individuals in a community based on sewage testing’. The panic du jour is made more difficult to understand when the agencies keep throwing fuzzy numbers and outrageous mandates at the public. How many this or that is not important. Omicron, now the most prevalent and least lethal is ‘surging’ but the real question is - and has always been - how many require a doctor’s care and how many required some period of hospitalization. How many deaths? How many “Covid” deaths are complicated by other illnesses - other so-called co-morbidity? Covid test positive but asymptomatic = so what. We are in a prolonged panic (or the authorities and media are) over what is arguably, now, a very serious flu-like phenomena. Everyone should get the shots. Everyone should be informed and everyone should take precautions but the never-ending emergency declarations and damage to everyday life and freedoms has to end. Teachers and students have to get back to work. Everyone needs to get back to work. The charts and graphs presented here just further confuse. The number of positive tests is basically useless information. And, you say the transmission rates in schools is relatively low - relative to what and why is that important? How many are being hospitalized?


Citizen
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 16, 2022 at 6:34 pm
Citizen, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Jan 16, 2022 at 6:34 pm

Thank you for this article. The misinformation on Nextdoor is exploding, too. I'm really annoyed since I was censored once for posting something (unrelated to Covid) that was supported by the bulk of mainstream environmental health research and government agencies, just not well-known, others were not censored for posting their totally wrong opinions gleaned from sensationalized news stories and popular misinformation with little to back them up, and here with Covid, the misinformation is just rampant and going unmoderated.

And it's mostly so reasonable-sounding, even using the CDC's own data but misinterpreting it to feed into fears -- the social media companies really must do more than just remove misinformation, I think they have to put a response by a solid source in its place, and even give people a way to dialog, because as we have found from recent years, fact checks do little good if they are removed from the misinformation.

Maybe the Weekly could do a story on the latest local misinformation, with answers?


Alexian Daugherty
Registered user
Los Altos
on Jan 17, 2022 at 4:06 pm
Alexian Daugherty, Los Altos
Registered user
on Jan 17, 2022 at 4:06 pm

This update on the spread of Covid is very disturbing and it appears to be a losing battle.

Even Dr. Fauci has resigned himself from offering any optimistic news.


Darby Hillman
Registered user
another community
on Jan 18, 2022 at 9:05 am
Darby Hillman, another community
Registered user
on Jan 18, 2022 at 9:05 am

The Omicron variant is spreading rapidly among the younger population and exposure at public schools will inevitably introduce Omicron into family homes regardless of vaccination status.

Best bet is to close down all of the schools until the winter season has passed and proceed from there.

Covid is not picky about who it infects and all large public gatherings including large sporting events, arena concerts, and large-scale theatrical productions) should be placed on sabbatical as well.


Jennifer Tate
Registered user
Menlo Park
on Jan 18, 2022 at 11:52 am
Jennifer Tate, Menlo Park
Registered user
on Jan 18, 2022 at 11:52 am

Omicron-related Covid is exploding and if some people cannot take the personal responsibility to get fully vaxed, wear face masks at public indoor gatherings, and safe distance themselves, then a return to 2020 restrictive mandates is warranted to protect others.

It's as simple as that.


Anthony Jeffers
Registered user
Stanford
on Jan 18, 2022 at 7:23 pm
Anthony Jeffers, Stanford
Registered user
on Jan 18, 2022 at 7:23 pm

The lingering effects of Long Term COVID is a condition that is rarely being discussed these days.

It can cause disorientation, chronic fatigue, memory loss, shortness of breath, and erectile dysfunction because the circulation system has now been compromised by the coronavirus.

Long Term COVID will be the next hot topic pertaining to Covid-19 and its variants.


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