'Pandemic of the unvaccinated': Bay Area doctor says cases could overwhelm hospitals within 4 weeks

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- As the Delta variant becomes the dominant strain across the country, hospitals are gearing up for what they say is a preventable fourth surge of COVID cases.

"This group that we are seeing now absolutely could and should have been prevented. The numbers are more convincing as we are looking at that. This is becoming the pandemic of the unvaccinated," said Dr. Chris Colwell, Chief Emergency Medicine, UCSF-SFGH.

Tuesday California Department of Public Health reported 4,723 new COVID-19 cases. The last time we had those numbers was during the winter surge five months ago.

RELATED: Bay Area counties recommend indoor mask wearing, even if vaccinated

Dr. Chris Colwell, the Chief of the Emergency Room at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital says 99% of those hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated. The concern is that hospitals will be overwhelmed in the next four to five weeks as infection rates increase.

"When we see infection rates going up at the rate they are going up now it means hospitalizations are coming next. So, we are already seeing an increase in hospitalizations now, and the rate of infections going up we know these numbers will only increase over the next several weeks," said Dr. Colwell adding, "San Francisco is well positioned to manage this, but the current rate of rise is alarming."

As the Delta variant takes hold accounting for 83% of COVID cases nationwide and nearly 50% in California, the zip codes with the lowest vaccination numbers are the focus.

We embedded ourselves with San Francisco's Latino Task Force outreach team as they walked around the Bayview informing the community about the COVID-19 vaccine.

RELATED: Spiking Bay Area COVID hospitalizations 'almost exclusively' among unvaccinated, experts say
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The makeup of hospitalized COVID patients has evolved from mostly older people, often with underlying conditions to those much younger.



"We are talking about the vaccine information. In this paper we have the information for the vaccine and for the COVID test," said Sonia Albarenga a LTF community outreach member.

The LTF team went door to door offering vaccination at home or at their nearby site.

"About 45%of people in this vicinity where we are have been vaccinated. Which means that we have a sizable amount of people that can be vaccinated," said Jon Jacobo, Health committee chair for the Latino Task Force.

Jacobo says some residents are getting vaccinated thanks to their outreach efforts, but the question now is will the spread of the Delta variant be faster?

RELATED: 'CA could backtrack' amid rapid spread of COVID-19 Delta variant, doctors say

Luz Pena: "What is your projection?"

Dr. Chris Colwell: "That if we don't change our behavior and that includes keeping up with the mask and the social distancing and getting vaccinated we are going to see hospitals being more packed in and potentially overwhelmed."

Dr. Colwell said in some cases those who are coming in with COVID-19 now are developing stronger symptoms than patients who came in last year.

As to when people who get COVID can they get vaccinated?

According to the CDC, you should wait 90 days before getting a COVID-19 vaccine. And in that lapse of time depending on their antibodies they could be exposing themselves to a second round of infection.

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

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