Mar 31, 2020 - Health

The San Francisco Bay Area's virus vigil

 Illustration of a San Francisco trolley car wrapped in caution tape
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The San Francisco Bay Area is in waiting mode right now, hoping its first-in-the-nation adoption of shelter-in-place policies give it a shot at dodging the virus crisis' worst-case scenarios.

Yes, but: The area, which has lately struggled to deal with widening economic inequality engendered by tech industry wealth, now also faces significant county-by-county variations in coronavirus impact, with Santa Clara County hardest hit.

Driving the news: On Monday, seven Bay Area counties extended their shelter-in-place orders, first effective on March 17, from the original April 7 end date to May 1 (and possibly longer).

  • The counties ordered all nonessential activities to be curtailed, shutting down bars, dine-in restaurants, gyms and more, and telling residents to stay home except for emergencies and food shopping.
  • Sara Cody and Scott Morrow, Santa Clara County and San Mateo County’s respective public health officers, have served as the region’s own versions of Anthony Fauci, delivering regular updates and pushing elected officials to make bold moves.
  • Early signs suggest the early moves helped: The number of hospitalized cases in one of the city’s main hospitals has remained low and steady, according to daily Twitter reports from Bob Wachter, department of medicine chair at UC San Francisco.

By the numbers: As of Monday, six patients in San Francisco have died from COVID-19, with 374 total confirmed cases (though testing continues to lag, making it difficult to grasp the true level of virus spread).

The crisis has also highlighted Silicon Valley’s penchant for problem-solving.

  • A number of health care startups, including Everlywell, Carbon Health and Nurx, shifted quickly to working on developing COVID-19 testing kits.
  • Other companies are tapping into their existing supply chains and expertise, including freight management firm Flexport, which is using its supply chain expertise to work on procuring medical supplies, and fuel cell company Bloom Energy, which took on the task of repairing broken ventilators procured by the state.

The catch: It’s still unclear whether the Bay Area has truly "flattened the curve."

  • A new model from the University of Washington predicts that California's need for medical resources like hospital beds will peak around April 26.
  • While the city of San Francisco is still seeing a low and steady rate of hospitalization, nearby Santa Clara County, home to San Jose and the place where the region's first case emerged, has seen a wider spread. Santa Clara is now the county with the second highest number of cases in the state, behind Los Angeles.
  • Despite best efforts, it’s undeniable that San Francisco will permanently lose a number of beloved restaurants, bars, shops and other businesses.
  • The city also has to figure out how to help more vulnerable groups, including the homeless and those living in single-occupancy rooms with shared amenities that make it hard not to interact with strangers.

The big picture: Since 2017, the Bay Area has already dealt with a major wildfire crisis, and the threat of a massive earthquake is never far from the collective consciousness.

  • Despite that backdrop, San Francisco remains determined to show it is once again “the city that knows how,” as President Taft dubbed it after it recovered from the 1906 earthquake to host the World's Fair nine years later.
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