COVID-19 Hospitalizations in S.F. Could Be Ten Times Higher by October

Dr. Grant Colfax, Director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health


Dr. Grant Colfax, Director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health

San Francisco’s Department of Public Health says further reopening plans remain on hold as the city sees a surge in new coronavirus infections that could lead to dire consequences in coming weeks. 

“The virus is not only still out there, it is out there more than ever before,” said Dr. Grant Colfax, director of the department, in a press conference Wednesday. “We are working with researchers who are seeing the reproductive rate of the virus continue to climb above one. Right now we estimate that that number is approximately 1.3,” he said, referring to the R0 or “r naught,” a term used to describe the infection rate of a disease.  In this case, that would essentially mean that for every three people with the virus, four new people are becoming infected. 

Dr. Colfax said at the current rate the number of infected people needing hospital beds in San Francisco could rise tenfold by fall. “If we do not do better, we are looking at major problems by late August and September, with an average peak of 900 hospitalized patients by early October,” he said. “And just to put this in some frame of reference, on our last surge, in April, we peaked at 94 cases.”

Colfax said contact tracing is showing that the spread in San Francisco is mostly among small groups of people who know each other. 

“There’s increased activity in terms of the social gatherings that people are having,” he said. “We really need to ensure that people are taking precautions and not making those visits, not having those birthday parties, not having those barbecues.”

Essential workers also remain at risk. “We think that may be due to certain workplace conditions where safety precautions are not being followed” Dr. Colfax said. “So we will be looking at that and increasing our oversight and enforcement of the required precautions, per the health orders that have been established.” He also cited crowded housing conditions as a known factor in increasing the spread of the coronavirus. 

On the positive side: San Francisco’s testing efforts are robust and in the green zone, which the city considers acceptable. Contact tracers are able to communicate with 85% of those infected and 85% of those who might have been exposed. The goal is 90% in both categories. 

Dr. Colfax said that while San Francisco has fared better than other parts of California, the window to avoid a new lockdown is shrinking. “Whether that’s a rollback through local action, or through state determined watch lists remains to be determined,” he said. “We have always known that this is a possibility. Given the unprecedented and uncertain situations we continue to face.”

Other updates from today’s press conference:

  • Colfax said San Francisco has seen 4,696 diagnosed cases of COVID-19, with 50 deaths. (1:28)
  • Cases per 100,000 rate have increased to 7.7. Now in the red zone, the highest threat level.  (5:06)
  • Current hospitalizations remain in the green zone.  (5:28)
  • Testing is also in the green zone but delays in getting results are rising. (6:24) 

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