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Health Experts: Omicron Variant 'Spreading Really Fast' In San Francisco Bay Area

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- While the holiday surge of omicron variant cases continues to grow in the San Francisco Bay Area, the high vaccination rate appears to be doing its job, keeping the infections from advancing to the hospitalization stage, according to health experts.

The rapid spread has upended planned family gatherings, disrupted travel, sidelined sports stars and triggered long lines at testing clinics.

Everyone seems to know someone who is suffering from the severe flu-like symptoms of a COVID infection. But what it hasn't triggered is a tidal wave of cases requiring hospitalizations.

"It's spreading really fast," said Dr. Bob Wachter from the UC San Francisco Department of Medicine. "I think that when you look at San Francisco, you get a sense of what it looks like to be a very, very well vaccinated city that's still being careful, lot of masks out there and yet the number of cases in the city has gone from about 40 a day to 350 a day just in the last couple of weeks."

Dr. Wachter said the reassuring part was that hospitalizations have increased only by 5%.

"It just says that the variant is itself a little bit milder and probably more importantly when the variant hits a lot of vaccinated people, a lot of them are going to get infected, but not that many are going to get super sick," he said.

And many of those testing positive are asymptomatic. So on Monday, both the Centers for Disease Control and the California Department of Public Health changed their quarantine requirements for asymptomatic individuals, lowering the quarantine period to isolation for five days followed by five days of wearing a mask around others.

"So I think they're good things and bad things from going from 10 to 5 days of isolation," said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an UCSF Infectious Disease expert. "In general, I think it's good because we can get our workforce ready as fast as possible, but only with the caveat of you have to be asymptomatic."

"The second thing," he added. "Is you have to be wearing that mask the remaining 5 days, and not just any mask, a really good mask."

But as people make difficult choices about get togethers and New Year's Eve plans this week, Dr. Chin Hong says even he's changed his mind about indoor dining.

"Last week if you'd ask me, I'd probably would have felt more comfortable," he said. "This week, I'm a little bit more queasy and I'd probably feel more comfortable dining outdoors, it depends on the situation. But I'm boosted, I'm relatively healthy."


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