Health Director: S.F. Must Be Vigilant, Flexible as City Reopens

Dr. Grant Colfax

File photo of Dr. Grant Colfax. Screen capture from SFGovTV.

As San Francisco improves its ability to mitigate the spread and treat the effects of the novel coronavirus, the city is also grappling with the fallout of its economic shutdown. Dr. Grant Colfax, director of the city’s Department of Public Health, said at a virtual press conference on Tuesday that the city has rapidly expanded its testing and contact tracing capacity and improved its supplies of personal protective equipment. While the number of new cases has not reduced to the city’s goal, the number of hospitalizations has dropped and hospital capacity meets the city’s target.

Colfax acknowledged, however, that the economic shutdown resulting from the city’s shelter-in-place order has detrimental public health effects as well as economic ones. He also said he expected to see case numbers increase as the city reopens.

“At the end of the day, reopening is about shared risk and shared responsibility,” Colfax said. “We’re going to need San Franciscans to really double down on all of those things, such as making sure that we’re continuing to wash our hands, that we’re covering our faces and we’re keeping distance.”

City Assessor-Recorder Carmen Chu echoed that concern, saying the virus had only worsened already existing inequalities and that the risk of the virus spreading should be balanced with the risks associated with continued economic shutdown.

“I don’t think it’s an either-or. I think that we have to think about it all together, because, frankly, health impacts are all interconnected with economic impact and the ability to put food on the table and to continue to interact with our communities,” she said.

Colfax said the indicators the city is using to monitor the effectiveness of its coronavirus response — hospital capacity, testing, case numbers, contact tracing capacity and personal protective equipment supply — could likely detect an oncoming case surge, but that these indicators could change as scientists and health officials learn more about the virus. He also called a surge in cases “very plausible.”

“We must be both vigilant and flexible as we enter this new phase,” he said.

Other topics discussed at the press conference include:

  • Colfax said the city’s goal is to keep illnesses and deaths as low as possible. (7:25)
  • Colfax gave an overview of the city’s health indicators and how close San Francisco is to reaching its goals in each of those indicators. (8:19)
  • Colfax responded to a reporter’s question about if and how the racial justice protests have affected case numbers (27:34)
  • Chu described the city’s re-opening as moving beyond essential businesses to address confusion about what activities and businesses are now deemed essential. (29:00)
  • Chu said the city has been gathering feedback on reopening guidelines from local businesses to balance the economic needs of employers with public health needs as the city re-opens. (30:47)