San Francisco Followed Covid Rules. Will Omicron Change the Playbook?

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San Francisco has endured disguise mandates, vaccination requirements and lockdowns. Now with the archetypal U.S. lawsuit of the Omicron variant, nary one’s definite what comes next.

Health authorities confirmed connected  Wednesday that the Omicron variant of the coronavirus had arrived successful  San Francisco.
Credit...Mike Kai Chen for The New York Times

Dec. 2, 2021Updated 4:18 p.m. ET

SAN FRANCISCO — For 2 years, San Franciscans person been pandemic poster children. When Covid-19 hit, the metropolis was among the archetypal successful the federation to state a authorities of emergency.

Masks person been de rigueur since April 2020. The vaccination complaint is among the world’s highest. When the wildly fashionable In-N-Out Burger basal astatine Fisherman’s Wharf refused to inquire customers for impervious of inoculation, the metropolis unopen down its indoor dining. “In-N-Out(side),” the metropolis nationalist wellness section scolded via tweet.

No matter: On Wednesday, arsenic wellness authorities confirmed that the Omicron variant of the coronavirus had arrived successful the United States, the archetypal known lawsuit was successful San Francisco. The infected person, who authorities said was self-isolating and participating successful assertive interaction tracing, had noticed symptoms aft returning from South Africa, wherever the variant was archetypal identified.

Now the metropolis that has led the federation successful coronavirus caution is preparing to hunker down. Again. Maybe harder.

“We were reasoning of possibly traveling again successful the spring,” sighed Linda Wollman, 67, a retiree who has not seen her European relatives since the pandemic started, and who has avoided crowds, restaurants and anyone who is unvaccinated, but her 15-month-old grandson.

“Now I conjecture we’ll conscionable laic low. Or laic lower. If that’s astatine each possible.”


Credit...Mike Kai Chen for The New York Times

Health officials braced for pandemic fatigue crossed the state this week arsenic connection dispersed that the caller variant had reached California, with the inevitability of cases being identified elsewhere.

On Thursday, much cases were reported: a Minnesota man who had precocious traveled to an anime normal successful New York, and a pistillate successful Colorado who had precocious vacationed successful South Africa and had what authorities wellness authorities said were “minor symptoms.”

The Minnesota diligent fell sick connected Nov. 22, suggesting that the variant already had begun to circulate adjacent earlier South African wellness authorities archetypal announced its detection there.

“This case, you know, was getting sick adjacent earlier we were proceeding astir Omicron from South Africa,” Kris Ehresmann, infectious illness manager for the Minnesota Department of Health, told reporters connected Thursday.

Omicron carries much than 50 familial mutations that successful mentation whitethorn marque it some much contagious and little susceptible to the body’s immune defenses than erstwhile variants. Available vaccines whitethorn inactive connection important extortion against terrible unwellness and decease pursuing corruption with the variant, but overmuch remains unknown.

Most of the mutations are connected the virus’s spike protein, which the existing vaccines target. Federal officials are asking vaccinated radical to get booster shots and the makers of the 2 astir effectual vaccines, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, are preparing to reformulate their shots, if needed.

But it remains unclear whether Omicron volition alteration the anti-coronavirus playbook. If the caller variant turns retired to beryllium much transmissible than, say, the Delta variant, officials said, wellness guidance whitethorn stiffen — much vigilance astir masking indoors, sterner requirements for boosters.

“It’s worthy re-asking the question, ‘I’ve started to get a small little cautious than I was — is that the close thing?’” said Dr. Bob Wachter, a prof and seat of the section of medicine astatine University of California, San Francisco. “If, psychologically, you request a period to get prepared to determination backwards, you should get acceptable for the possibility.”

That could beryllium tough. The options authorities officials person to power the dispersed of the microorganism person proved to beryllium politically constricted successful this country, adjacent wherever communities person been unfastened to restrictions. California’s wellness measures saved countless lives, for instance, but besides helped substance a callback effort against Gov. Gavin Newsom this year.

In the agrarian northbound extremity of the state, the Butte County municipality of Oroville recently declared itself a “constitutional republic” successful a mostly symbolic determination to protestation pandemic mandates. Just 49 percent of the county’s residents are afloat vaccinated, with more than treble the cases per 100,000 radical than successful San Francisco.

“Every measurement that enforces a caller oregon much stringent regularisation comes with blowback,” Dr. Wachter said.


Credit...Mike Kai Chen for The New York Times

In the aftermath of the recognition of the Omicron variant successful the United States, President Biden extended a disguise request connected buses, trains and airplanes done mid-March and offered security reimbursement for at-home coronavirus tests, on with amended entree to those tests for radical without insurance. Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the president’s apical aesculapian adviser, exhorted Americans to instrumentality vantage of vaccines.

“We person 60 cardinal radical successful this state who are not vaccinated who are eligible to beryllium vaccinated,” Dr. Fauci said. “Let’s get them vaccinated. Let’s get the radical vaccinated, boosted. Let’s get the children vaccinated.”

In California, that was the message, too. At a quality league successful the Central Valley, wherever the microorganism has raged amid persistent vaccine resistance, Mr. Newsom said helium did not expect to reinstate shelter-in-place orders oregon schoolroom closures, though the authorities planned to summation coronavirus investigating astatine airports among travelers from countries designated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Much inactive depends connected the actions of idiosyncratic Californians, helium said: whether they heed his repeated, urgent calls to get vaccinations oregon booster shots, for instance, and whether they instrumentality different precautions, similar adhering to disguise mandates.

“It’s important for folks to recognize we person agency,” the politician said. “People person been thriving with these vaccines.”

In San Francisco, arsenic connection dispersed of the find of the Omicron variant among its residents, galore were little “thriving” than resigned to the measures that person go a literal mode of beingness successful the city. Before the variant showed up, the metropolis had been engaged successful a robust nationalist chiding of the mayor, who had been caught connected Instagram connected an indoor creation level without a mask.

Edlyn Kloefkorn, who has an 85-year-old parent astatine location connected dialysis and a 5th grader who had conscionable gotten his 2nd dose of vaccine connected Sunday, wondered whether her family’s beingness would ever instrumentality to their aged normal.

“If they don’t commencement giving the different countries vaccines,” she said, picking her lad up from the St. Cecilia School successful the West Portal vicinity of the city, “this is ne'er going to end.”


Credit...Mike Kai Chen for The New York Times

At the Ferry Building, a nutrient hallway and marketplace connected San Francisco Bay, diners connected the outdoor patio disquieted astir caller economical disruption.

“I anticipation we clasp the flexibility we person and businesses support opening up,” said Evelyn Arevalo, a concern expert astatine a biotech institution who had travel extracurricular to decompress with a coloring expanse and a vessel of butternut squash soup.

Allen Cooper, 53, who flew into San Francisco from Denver past week to conscionable with Bay Area-based colleagues, wondered what this would mean for his work’s return-to-office day connected Jan. 18. “Hopefully there’s not different world that we person to accommodate to yet again,” Mr. Cooper said.

At a Christmas histrion lighting astatine Civic Center Plaza, wherever vaccinations were required for municipal employees wrong the V.I.P. structure and masks were encouraged successful the outdoor assemblage of respective 100 onlookers, Dale Parker, 62, said helium was tiring of wellness restrictions.

He said helium was present utilized to the analyzable hazard calculus that helium made earlier deciding to travel retired to the festive gathering — the fig of people, however acold isolated they were, the lawsuit complaint successful the city, the information that helium himself was vaccinated — but helium is tiring of the restrictions that San Francisco is under, including the city’s indoor disguise mandate for nationalist spaces.

“I deliberation radical should person a choice,” helium said.

Alisa Bat, 28, stood connected the outskirts of the assemblage successful a reddish Santa chapeau — an effort to get into the vacation temper portion minimizing risk. She said she was disquieted astir the Omicron variant but besides “trying to escape” from reasoning astir it.

Dr. Wachter, a chap San Franciscan, echoed galore of his neighbors, noting that for the adjacent fewer weeks astatine least, the Delta variant is overmuch much apt than the Omicron variant to infect him. He said helium plans to support his existent level of precautions.

“If you determine to spell to an indoor restaurant,” helium said, “your hazard is nary antithetic than it was past week.”

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