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Expert: Expect Holiday COVID Surge; New Treatments, 'Immunity Force Field' Will Keep Hospitalizations Low

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- With holiday travel soaring and Ramadan, Easter and Passover being celebrated on the same weekend for the first time in years, San Francisco Bay Area residents came together this weekend in large family or religious gatherings in numbers not seen since the outbreak of the COVID pandemic.

So, a leading infectious disease expert says, expect a spike in new COVID cases over the next week or so.

"I think these gatherings are going to drive up cases as people travel all around the country," said UCSF's Dr. Peter Chin-Hong. "Even though California so far is doing okay in sense of only a modest increase. When you look at (Washington) DC, when you look at New York, Rhode Island, Puerto Rico, there are increases in cases by as much as 100, 150, 200 percent. So when people crisscross and move around it's definitely going to bring infections all over the country."

But unlike past spikes, Dr. Chin-Hong believes hospitalizations will remain low.

"I very concerned about a potential spike in cases in the community, however, if things go as we expect and I'm crossing my fingers, the hospitals will remain quiet and that's really what the power of the vaccine and what the immunity force field is," he said. "Right now cases are going up about 25 percent compared to the last few weeks, but on the other hand, hospitalizations are going down about 25 percent."

"We are seeing a decoupling of what is happening in the community with what is going on in the hospital," he added.

Unlike past holiday surges, Dr. Chin-Hong believes several factors should play a role keeping this one manageable. High exposure to the Omicron variant and high vaccination rates will couple with new treatments to keep new breakthrough cases mild.

"Not only do we have fewer people getting really ill, but we have many options to keep people away from the hospital even if they weren't vaccinated," he said. "These are things like Paxlovid or monoclonal antibodies, etc."

What can you expect if you do come down with am Omicron of B.A. 2 infection?

"We are seeing mild symptoms -- scratchy throat, runny nose, congestion, headache, muscle aches," Dr. Chin-Hong said. "What we are not seeing is cough, shortness of breathe and very little loss of taste and smell."

Even with the threat of new infections, Bay Area residents felt a sense of relief and a return to normalcy as they gathered this weekend.

People joined together for Good Friday services at St. Dominic's Catholic Church in San Francisco. Whether masked up, or not, people shared in their worship side-by-side.

"It was a beautiful feeling. No question about it," said Camille Martinelli. "I felt God there today...It's wonderful to be here."

At Chabad of San Francisco, Rabbi Moshe Lange prepared for a highly anticipated community Passover Seder.

"My favorite part about the Seder is seeing everybody come together with smiles and joy," Langer told KPIX 5. "One of the focal points of Judaism is to be in person. It's hard to have a celebration if you don't have family or friends around."

They did have a small, in-person Seder last year, but the Rabbi said they're expecting a much bigger crowd this year.

"We're going to have a beautiful Seder of 200 people. We're completely booked up," he said.

Meanwhile at the Islamic Center of San Francisco, there was a gathering to celebrate the holy month of Ramadan.

"It's been amazing, it's been great, because two, three years ago, my friends weren't able to come, I wasn't able to come," said Ismail Piperdi, 15, a high school student. "And now coming and seeing my friends, it's pretty good, it's great."

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