Health officials said Friday that we are likely in the middle of the biggest COVID-19 surge of the entire pandemic, even though official testing numbers don’t show it.
Now, California’s most populous county said it may reinstitute a mask mandate in a matter of weeks.
“What we’re seeing recently is that there are high levels of the SARS-CoV-2 in waste water and it’s not quite showing us the same levels as cases have in the past,” said Marlene Wolfe, leader of Project Scan-Wastewater Monitor.
In fact, surveys taken in cities like Palo Alto and San Francisco’s Oceanside show there’s a higher COVID level now then there was a few months ago when we thought we had reached the pandemic’s peak.
But when comparing numbers to our counties’ case count, there’s a different story.
In Santa Clara County, the seven-day average surpassed 5,000 cases in January, but right now that number is at about 1,000.
“The case data clearly shows that there is a surge right now but it doesn’t give you a direct comparison to previous times because of the way that the approach to testing and reporting that data has changed,” said Wolfe.
Experts said home testing explains the discrepancy. More people are testing positive at home and not reporting it while hospitalization rates are starting to creep up steadily.
The situation has pushed the Los Angeles County Health Department to consider bringing back a mask order if their hospitalization and COVID-19 community level stay high for the next two weeks.
Some health experts in the Bay Area say it’s the right move.
On paper, COVID-19 cases are high, but the numbers may be giving us a different idea. NBC Bay Area’s Jessica Aguirre spoke to UCSF’s Dr. Peter Chin-Hong for some clarity.
“I think it’s a good move to institute indoor masking because it’s an easy intervention that we can quickly institute and hopefully decrease transmission to other people and once we decrease the number of cases in the community we can impact the number of hospitalizations,” said Dr. Luis Rubio of UCSF.
Just about every county in the Bay Area said that right now, they’re not considering bringing back a mask mandate, but they are keeping an eye on our hospitals and any statewide measures.
Rubio believes that could change soon.
“We’ve been at a plateau and I think that cases could really easily keep going up without any sort of public health intervention given the positivity rate and the wastewater data there’s a good likelihood that the cases could keep going up,” he said.