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COVID Cases In San Francisco Dropping Steadily Following Omicron Peak

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- COVID-19 cases are steadily dropping in San Francisco after the omicron surge led to the highest case level since the start of the pandemic, the city's health department announced Thursday.

Data from the San Francisco Department of Public Health shows cases peaked on January 9 with a seven-day average of 2,164 cases per day and have dropped each day since to 1,705 cases per day on January 12. COVID hospitalizations are expected to peak within the next few days at a level that remains within the city's health care system capacity.

"We have seen COVID evolve over the past two years, and as a city, we have evolved with it," said Mayor London Breed in a prepared statement. "We know that this virus will be with us for the foreseeable future, but we have the tools in place and the experience managing COVID to not let it completely upend our lives. While we can't predict what will happen, the Omicron variant has proven to us that we can keep our classrooms and businesses open and essential services running.

San Francisco continues to have some of the highest vaccination rates in the nation, with 82 percent of residents fully vaccinated and 61 percent of those eligible for a booster having already received their shot.

While hospitalizations due to COVID-19 remain relatively high, the city continues to have enough bed capacity and the number of hospitalizations is expected to go down within the next few days to reflect the new, lower daily average caseload.

Additionally, SFDPH data shows that the vast majority, or about 80 percent, of people hospitalized in the city are not up-to-date on their COVID-19 vaccinations.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began nearly two years ago in March 2020, 700 San Franciscans have died from the virus, SFDPH officials said.

"The good news is things are starting to plateau, but it doesn't mean we can get super comfortable or take our guard down," Breed said during a briefing outside City Hall.

"With San Franciscans being 82 percent fully vaccinated, it's really hopeful for the future that we will continue to move forward and see some additional improvements as the days go on," she said. "The light at the end of the tunnel is here. We may go through another tunnel again, but just know there is hope and there is light."

Despite the drop in cases, overall COVID cases are still extremely high and require people to continue using multiple layers of defenses to help stop the spread, such as upgrading face masks to N95, testing, vaccinations and boosters.

Both Breed and the city's health director Dr. Grant Colfax said the omicron surge has been managed while keeping businesses, schools, and essential City services open, even amid staffing disruptions. Most of those who came down with COVID in the city experienced mild or asymptomatic infections because of the city's high vaccination and booster rates.

"Our inability to eradicate this virus is not because we didn't try. This is how viruses like this work," said UCSF Infectious Diseases specialist Dr. Monica Gandhi.

Dr. Monica Gandhi believes a thick wall of immunity has been built for whatever variant comes next.

"The variant can't evade immunity to the entire virus that you've gotten because of Omicron," said Dr. Gandhi.

Masking and other restrictions were just lifted in the United Kingdom, including in schools.

In California, indoor masking rules remain in effect until at least mid-February and while local counties can't loosen state-wide restrictions, public health officials are talking about that possibility, when it's allowed.

"We're not going to hold onto restrictions waiting for Omicron to go away or COVID to go away. It's clear that's not going to happen anymore," said San Francisco health officer Dr. Grant Colfax.

That also means masking for school children could become optional in the near future.

"We never masked children during influenza or parainfluenza. Certain children and adults may choose to mask but endemic management would not involve children either," said Gandhi.

San Francisco COVID-19 resources:

Kenny Choi contributed to this story.

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