Here's what Europe's omicron BA.2 COVID surge means for the Bay Area

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Just as California has begun to loosen its COVID restrictions, reports of COVID surges in Asia and Europe are raising questions about what the next few months could look like in the Bay Area.

After all, throughout the pandemic, the U.S. has always seemed to be two to four weeks behind the United Kingdom, which is currently experiencing a surge in the BA.2 subvariant.

So, is what's happening overseas bound to happen in the Bay Area? We raised that question with UCSF epidemiologists Dr. George Rutherford and Dr. Monica Gandhi.

After two years of doom and gloom, their answers were surprisingly optimistic.

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"No, it's not inevitable," Dr. Rutherford said when asked if he expects the Bay Area will see a surge in the next month or two.

But, he added, "I think it's inevitable in the year timeframe...I think we should be prepared for this to be a winter time disease like influenza that we see every winter."

Alternatively, Dr. Gandhi said she does believe it is likely the Bay Area will see some surge in cases in the coming weeks, but said it will likely be similar to the U.K. and Denmark, where cases have gone up but hospitalizations stayed flat.

"The Bay Area is highly vaccinated," she told ABC7 News. "We're actually about 87% vaccinated over the age of five, so because of that I'm hoping we're going to follow the same pattern and our hospitalizations will be okay."

"I think that's just really important to stress that immunity works," she added.

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Both doctors said the surge in Asia -- which appears to be the tail end of the omicron surge the U.S. experienced this winter -- should not have an impact on the Bay Area.

Dr. Rutherford said ultimately the timing of a surge will come down to a variety of factors.

"Depends on what variants emerge, what happens with Ukraine, what happens in western Europe," he said. "I think we're probably reasonably protected now for the next few months."

The situation in Ukraine is something both doctors are watching. The region has a low vaccination rate and there's concern the humanitarian crisis -- with refugees jammed into trains and bomb shelters -- could also be a superspreader.

"I think that's potentially a place where we could be introducing new variants if they emerge," Dr. Rutherford said. "I think it will impact the whole world, frankly...who knows if it will actually happen, but I'm just saying the potential is there for millions of additional cases."

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