COVID in California: Coronavirus deaths rising in U.S., even among vaccinated – San Francisco Chronicle

Brett Harte Elementary hosts a vaccine clinic for children and families to get the COVID-19 vaccination in San Francisco, Calif.
UPDATE: Why is the COVID case rate in San Francisco so much higher than the U.S. right now?
Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are rising across California, and Bay Area health officials are urging the public to take more precautions.
(For the May 12 live blog, click here.)
Daily COVID-19 hospital admissions and new virus-related deaths will increase over the next four weeks based on forecast models used by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The U.S. could see up to 6,700 new deaths reported in the week ending June 4, with California, New York and Florida recording the highest number of fatalities. The country is averaging about 328 COVID deaths a day. With a cumulative 998,699 fatalities attributed to the pandemic, the nation will likely pass the milestone of 1 million deaths by early next week. An ABC News analysis this week found a growing proportion of those COVID-19 deaths are occurring among the vaccinated. In September 2021, just 1.1% of COVID-19 deaths were among Americans who had been fully vaccinated and received their first booster dose. By February 2022, that percentage had increased to about 25%, with experts pointing to more transmissible virus variants and waning vaccine immunity. About 2,500 patients are being admitted to hospitals daily with COVID-19, up more than 18% from the previous week and the highest figure since mid-March.
Since the first week of April, when the highly transmissible BA.2 omicron subvariant became the dominant strain in Marin County, case rates have tripled, public health officials said on Wednesday. Congregate settings such as schools, long-term care facilities, and correctional institutions have all reported outbreaks, with wastewater samples confirming an increase in the presence of the virus across the county. “Each variant is different,” said Dr. Matt Willis, Marin County’s public health officer, in a statement. “We’re learning in real-time about this new strain, and what it does and doesn’t do. It’s very good at infecting people, including those who are vaccinated. But it’s not sending vaccinated people to the hospital.” The health department is recommending that residents avoid non-essential indoor gatherings while transmission levels remain high and wearing a well-fitted KN95 or N95 mask in any public indoor setting. “The virus is changing, and our approach needs to shift as well,” said Dr. Willis. “It’s increasingly likely most of us will have a date with COVID if we haven’t yet. The key is to be vaccinated and boosted before that happens, so we don’t end up seriously ill. Plus we need to rally to prevent infections among the most vulnerable, and make sure they have access to treatment.”
There have been zero COVID-19 deaths in Sonoma County since April 16 and fewer than 10 since early March despite a steady increase in cases, public health officials said during a Wednesday briefing. “This wave of cases is really unlike other surges we have experienced during the pandemic,” said Paul Gullixson, the county’s communications manager. Sonoma County is reporting about 32 new daily cases per 100,000 residents, a 167% increase from a month ago. But so far, that has not translated into severe outcomes, noted Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase, even though “we are seeing widespread disruptions in our daily lives, including at work and school.” She encouraged residents to resume wearing masks in indoor public settings and get vaccinated and boosted. Mase also said state models forecast that the current wave will subside in Sonoma County by late May or early June. “We’re in a much better place than at any time in the past two years,” she said. 
For much of the pandemic, the trajectories of the Bay Area’s COVID-19 surges have been just behind those of other major places like New York and the United Kingdom — helping medical experts forecast when cases would max out before heading back down. But this time around, in the midst of a swell of cases fueled by the BA.2 omicron subvariant and its sublineages that has yet to peak, health officials say the curve’s rise and fall are harder to predict. Here are five reasons why experts say it’s harder to forecast this wave’s timeline.
Major League Baseball postponed the series finale between the Cleveland Guardians and the Chicago White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field on Wednesday due to multiple positive COVID-19 tests within the Cleveland team’s organization, including positive tests for manager Terry Francona and bench coach DeMarlo Hale. It marks the first coronavirus-related postponement in the league so far this season, which started on April 7. Read more about the postponement of Wednesday’s game against the Chicago White Sox.
St. Rose Catholic School in Santa Rosa has closed its campus due to a sharp increase in coronavirus cases among students and educators, Principal Kathleen Aymar told parents in an email obtained by The Press Democrat. “We now have a legitimate COVID outbreak in 8th, 7th, 5th, 6th, 4th, and 3rd grade classes,” Aymar wrote. “This has now become a serious issue with so many cases popping up in multiple classes and COVID is now affecting school staff, and our ability to hold classes with appropriate staffing.” It is the first school in Sonoma County to shut down due to the virus since the winter omicron surge. In a follow-up email to the newspaper, the principal said administrators were working with Sonoma County public health officials and would reassess the situation later this week. All students will be required to provide a negative PCR test result to return to campus once it reopens. “We understand this is a huge inconvenience to all of us, but please understand, we have students and staff who are actually ill, suffering with mild to moderate symptoms,” Aymar wrote. “We have families with elderly patients at home, and we have staff with underlying health conditions.”
The rapid spread of the BA.4 and BA.5 omicron subvariants and continued domination of BA.2 and its sublineages are driving a “major surge in cases” in more than 50 countries and creating a volatile global situation, the head of the World Health Organization cautioned at a briefing Tuesday. The United States is among those countries where cases and hospitalizations are trending up. Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he hopes to address the looming crisis at the Global Summit on COVID-19 co-hosted by President Biden on Thursday. “Our task is to prepare for the worst so that countries are in the best position to respond to what comes next,” he said. “Worst-case scenarios for COVID-19 include a variant that evades current immunity, transmits more easily and/or causes greater mortality.”
An estimated 107,622 Americans died of drug overdoses last year, the most on record according to data published Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The provisional 2021 total translates to roughly one U.S. overdose death every 5 minutes, the Associated Press says. The estimate marks a 15% increase from the previous record, set the year before. Overdoses involving fentanyl and other synthetic opioids surpassed 71,000, up 23% from the year before. There also was a 23% increase in deaths involving cocaine and a 34% increase in deaths involving meth and other stimulants. Experts say the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the problem as lockdowns and other restrictions isolated those with drug addictions and made treatment harder to get. 
The Los Angeles Unified School District has voted to delay its COVID-19 vaccine mandate for eligible students until at least July 1, 2023. The district previously planned to implement the vaccination requirement for students next fall, but now it appears the district will align with the state. “Our schools are some of the safest places for the students we serve,” Board President Kelly Gonez said in a statement. “With our nation-leading safety standards, as well as our high rate of vaccinated students over 12, the conditions we find ourselves in have greatly improved. [Tuesday’s] decision demonstrates that as circumstances change and evolve, the District will continue to make decisions about student safety and well-being in consultation with leading health experts and that are rooted in science.” A vaccine mandate for district employees remains in effect.
Face masks will no longer be required on flights or inside airports in European Union countries starting Monday, according to new guidance from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. The agency said it made the decision after taking into account the levels of vaccination and naturally acquired immunity across the continent, as well as the lifting of restrictions in many European countries. “It is a relief to all of us that we are finally reaching a stage in the pandemic where we can start to relax the health safety measures,” Patrick Ky, executive director of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency, said in a statement. “For many passengers, and also aircrew members, there is a strong desire for masks to no longer be a mandatory part of air travel. We are now at the start of that process.” He added that passengers who are “coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”
New research from scientists at the University of Texas confirms a lower risk of spreading the coronavirus at large outdoor gatherings than at smaller indoor events. Comparing case studies from a one-day business conference with 3,000 attendees and an outdoor festival with 50,000 attendees, the researchers found that the latter scenario had a lower number of individual infections over the four weeks following the event. They additionally found that simple mitigation measures such as requiring proof of vaccination and mask wearing significantly reduced virus transmission. “Although the hypothetical outdoor festival is over ten times the size of the hypothetical business conference, we estimate that it will produce only double the number of infections within the community during and following the event,” the researchers wrote.
Journey has canceled the last four dates of its sold-out North American arena tour after a band member tested positive for the coronavirus, according to a statement posted to social media Tuesday. The iconic San Francisco band led by Neal Schon — which played a hometown show at Chase Center in March — did not specify which member has COVID-19, but said it would reschedule the concerts that were set to take place this week in Washington, D.C., Hartford, Toronto, and Quebec. Read more about the band’s tour and its sudden termination.
The COVID-19 death toll in California is inching close to a dark milestone of 90,000 lives lost, as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations keep pushing up across the state and health officials urge people to take more precautions. With cases rising, read more about the latest advice from Bay Area health officials here.
Santa Clara County’s health officer Dr. Sara Cody said Tuesday that the county is starting to see “early signs” that hospitalizations may be on the rise after remaining flat even while case counts have steadily increased in recent weeks. The 7-day rolling average of reported COVID-19 cases in the county rose from 193 on April 3 to 589 on May 3, she noted, and the levels of COVID detected in wastewater across the county “are rising in a similar fashion.” “We’re not out of it yet,” Cody said at a news conference, urging people to continue exercising precautions.
The original BA.1.1 omicron coronavirus variant that drove the winter surge in the United States accounted for just 0.6% of the new COVID-19 infections last week, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data showed Tuesday. It has been crowded out by its own subvariants: BA.2 is now dominant in the U.S., making up over 56% of new cases, with its hyper-transmissible sublineage BA.2.12.1 accounting for 42.6% of cases sequenced and is rapidly spreading. “Most of the country has yet to see its full impact,” Eric Topol, a scientist at Scripps, said in a tweet.
Stanford University has the highest number of COVID cases since its spring quarter began in March, the Stanford Daily is reporting, with a one-week increase of 56% among students and 9% among employees. The spike follows several gatherings, including “Admit Weekend” April 29, when more than 2,600 admitted students and guests converged onto campus. Of those infected, 328 students are in isolation. Students’ rate of positive tests rose from 6% to just over 9% in one week. California’s overall rate is 3.9%. Since June 2020, 3,581 students and 2,114 employees have tested positive for the coronavirus through the university’s testing system, the newspaper reported.
Alameda County’s health officer, Dr. Nicholas Moss, found a reassuring equity trend in the current wave of coronavirus spread. This wave does not appear to be disproportionately affecting disadvantaged communities as the pandemic did in earlier surges, he told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. The positive test rate, which in almost every other surge has been higher in lower income neighborhoods, is currently about 6% and fairly even across the county, he said.
The BA.2.12.1 variant of the omicron coronavirus strain now makes up about half of California’s cases, according to state modeling described Tuesday by state epidemiologist Erica Pan. She noted the state’s 7-day average number of cases continues up, but deaths are still decreasing and the number of COVID intensive care unit cases has been stable. During a COVID update with the California Medical Association, Pan said it was “somewhat reassuring that our hospitalizations have not increased at the same pace as some of the other states,” including in the Northeast where the BA.2 subvariant is surging,
The cumulative COVID-19 death toll in California hit 89,957 on Tuesday, according to public health data — the most pandemic-related fatalities recorded by any state. That number increased by 106 since Friday, with California, the nation’s most populous state, now averaging about 12 virus deaths daily.
The Chronicle’s Pandemic Problems advice column tackles a question from a reader who asked about masking in schools: “How protective are masks on kids in a room with unmasked kids?” With kids apparently catching colds in school, is there any way a mask, even a high-quality one, “would actually fend off catching COVID from a child in the same classroom all day?”
Aidin Vaziri is a staff writer at The San Francisco Chronicle.
Rita Beamish is The San Francisco Chronicle topic editor.
Nanette covers California’s public universities – the University of California and California State University – as well as community colleges and private universities. She’s written about sexual misconduct at UC and Stanford, the precarious state of accreditation at City College of San Francisco, and what happens when the UC Berkeley student government discovers a gay rights opponent in its midst. She has exposed a private art college where students rack up massive levels of debt (one student’s topped $400k), and covered audits peering into UC finances, education lawsuits and countless student protests.

But writing about higher education also means getting a look at the brainy creations of students and faculty: Robotic suits that help paralyzed people walk. Online collections of folk songs going back hundreds of years. And innovations touching on everything from virtual reality to baseball.

Nanette is also covering the COVID-19 pandemic and served as health editor during the first six months of the crisis, which quickly ended her brief tenure as interim investigations editor.

Previously, Nanette covered K-12 education. Her stories led to changes in charter school laws, prompted a ban on Scientology in California public schools, and exposed cheating and censorship in testing.

A past president of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Northern California chapter, Nanette has a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University and a B.A. in sociology from Queens College. She speaks English and Spanish.
Dominic Fracassa is an assistant metro editor overseeing breaking news and criminal justice in San Francisco. He previously covered San Francisco City Hall as a staff writer.

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