EXCLUSIVE: CA's chief epidemiologist explains why Bay Area is state's COVID hotspot

Santa Cruz, San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin are some of the counties with the highest COVID case rates in the entire state.

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Thursday, May 19, 2022
EXCLUSIVE: Doctor explains why Bay Area is CA's COVID hotspot
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California's Chief Epidemiologist Dr. Erica Pan explains why Bay Area is state's COVID hotspot, if mask mandate could return.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- ABC7 News sat down with California's Chief Epidemiologist Dr. Erica Pan as the state braces for the latest COVID-19 wave.

She was hopeful but realistic.

"This is a time where we are learning how to live with this virus, this COVID-19 virus," said Dr. Pan.

According to CDC data, the eye of the storm in California is in the Bay Area. Santa Cruz, San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin are some of the counties with the highest COVID case rates in the entire state.

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Luz Pena: "How did the Bay Area become California's latest COVID hot spot?"

Dr. Pan: "It's a question that we are all kind of thinking about and looking at quite a bit. I will say this particular virus continues to throw curveballs. I think it really continues to find people who have not been infected and potentially we know that we have immunity from vaccines, we can get immunity from prior infection and if you have both that give you what we are calling hybrid immunity which is super strong."

County Transmission Levels in California

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Luz Pena: "Was it also because the Bay Area had a lack of natural immunity? Because so many people were vaccinated?"

Dr. Pan: "Yeah people have been able to avoid being infected and I think this virus again will often try to find people who aren't."

Recently BART's reinstated its mask mandate and San Jose is requiring city employees to mask indoors again. So, we asked:

Luz Pena: "Is there a possibility that a mask mandate could be brought back?"

Dr. Pan: "I think we should always maintain that readiness and possibility that especially if we see again a large impact on our health care system if we see an increase in deaths that is really unusual severely. Thankfully we've maintained low hospitalizations, but those are all the things that we are concerned about."

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Dr. Pan confirmed omicron's sub-variant BA 2.12.1 makes up about half of the sequencing throughout the state. Meaning it's quickly overpowering other variants. Despite this Dr. Pan is not highly concerned right now, but knows anything can change.

"We could have a variant evolve that is more serious and evades our immunity to an extent that we really have a much larger impact on our infrastructure," said Dr. Pan.

The state of California is currently not requiring students to be vaccinated or boosted until 2023. We asked Dr. Pan about this.

VIDEO: Doctors explain why SF has highest COVID positivity rate in CA

"I think we still have a lot to see and learn over the next several months to see what happens. I will say that I think vaccine requirement traditionally are for diseases that cause actually less impact than what the COVID-19 virus has caused and continue to cause. So, I think it is important," said Dr. Pan

She says California is better equipped now to face future variants, "We've learned how this virus is transmitted, we learned that we can protect ourselves with well-filtered masks, that indoor ventilation is really important to help prevent. We've developed these vaccines and we are able to get a large portion of our population. Over 75 percent of our over 5 (year olds) are vaccinated with at least with primary series now. That is huge, again we have more testing availability now more than we had early on. We know we have at-home testing."

Dr. Pan said the state is working on adding more than 40 locations to the statewide "test to treat" program where people can get tested for COVID and get an antiviral medication for treatment on the same day.

VACCINE TRACKER: How California is doing, when you can get a coronavirus vaccine

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