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Cautious optimism in San Francisco over coronavirus, but mayor calls for sacrifice

Empty freeways in San Francisco
Roads are deserted in San Francisco during the coronavirus pandemic.
(Josh Edelson / AFP/Getty Images)

San Francisco is able to handle a steady increase in hospitalized coronavirus cases, but officials warned Wednesday that it is still too early to let up on the city’s strict shelter-in-place order and urged residents to stay at home.

The city has emerged as something of a bright spot in California’s battle against the coronavirus. It is densely populated with heavy use of mass transit, conditions that could allow the virus to spread quickly. But so far, San Francisco has seen 10 deaths and 676 cases, compared with 200 deaths and over 7,500 cases in Los Angeles County.

From the Los Angeles Times: Coronavirus in California: Stories From the Front Line is a daily 15-minute podcast hosted by reporter Gustavo Arellano.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed warned that, despite the low numbers, the trends still project an increased numbers of coronavirus patients in the city.

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“As well as it may seem like we’re doing, as you can see, those numbers are still going up, and we anticipate they will be even higher. ... I just want to reiterate, now is a time for sacrifice. And sacrifice is for all of us to follow the order,” she said.

San Francisco has been able to increase its number of intensive care unit beds to 530, Breed said Wednesday. But while the number of hospitalized patients with COVID-19 has continued to climb, there were just 36 coronavirus-infected patients in the city’s intensive care units as of Monday, and 54 in acute-care beds.

“So far, the numbers continue to go up, but they haven’t been rising at a rate faster than we can handle,” said Dr. Grant Colfax, the director of public health in San Francisco. “But it is still a rapidly changing situation, and we must not — cannot — be complacent. ... This virus will take off otherwise.”

These are some of the unusual new scenes across the Southland during the coronavirus outbreak.
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Colfax said the shelter-in-place order, implemented March 16, three days ahead of a statewide order, “appears to have slowed the spread of the coronavirus in San Francisco.”

But it’s not surprising that hospitalizations are still continuing to climb, Colfax said, because the virus is extremely transmissible. While San Francisco’s increase in cases is slower than in hot spots around the country like New York City, Colfax warned, “this could change any day. When this virus takes off, it can really take off.”

He said there are still too many cases of coronavirus in San Francisco for officials to do intense investigations of each new case, and to identify that person’s close contacts so they can be told to quarantine themselves to determine whether they’ll get sick.

Colfax compared the current outbreak to fighting a fire sweeping through the city. If public health officials are able to extinguish the broader fire of coronavirus cases throughout the city, then officials can focus on containing small flare-ups of virus activity when they arise.

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“Our goal is to have a robust team of disease control investigators who can immediately respond to those sparks so we do not return to a situation where we have widespread community transmission today,” he said.


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