“It’s not a night and day difference. What’s surprising though is that the Bay Area has been such an overperformer throughout the pandemic,” Wachter told me. “We’ve sort of gotten used to being the poster children for doing well.”
Wachter knows more people who’ve contracted Covid in the past few weeks than ever before, he said, including his wife. He offered a few theories on the Bay Area’s newfound position.
The San Francisco area has a high fraction of residents who have been able to work from home for the past two years, so they may have been able to avoid the virus until recently dropping their guard amid loosened pandemic rules. “For the first time in two years, you see a lot of people without masks,” Wachter said.
And though the region has high vaccination rates, the shots’ ability to prevent people from getting infected wanes over time, so they may not confer the same protection they once did. Plus, the Bay may be particularly vulnerable simply because of how many residents have never contracted the virus before, he added.
“In the face of a very, very infectious variant, the fact that you did well in the past is a little bit of a risk factor for more people getting infected now,” Wachter said.
Hospitalizations have increased slightly in the Bay Area, but far less than during previous surges, most likely because vaccines provide such strong protection against severe disease. In Los Angeles County, where cases have increased 56 percent over the past two weeks, the number of patients hospitalized with Covid remains flat.
Health officials warn that reported case numbers are probably a severe undercount, as at-home rapid tests are not included in the data. But the figures still provide a snapshot of the latest trends.