COVID-19 cases are rising again to levels higher than last summer's surge, Santa Clara County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said during a press conference on Tuesday.
The number of hospitalizations are also on the rise, Cody said.
"What we're seeing now is similar to what we were seeing in mid-February, and it's more than what we were seeing at the height of the delta surge," she said.
Referencing wastewater surveillance, one measure of the coronavirus' presence, she noted: "When we look across all of our sewersheds, we are also seeing an uptick. … (At) the San Jose sewershed, which covers the majority of the population in Santa Clara County, the levels there are now more than twice what they were two weeks ago. They've been steadily climbing for about a month."
Not surprisingly, the county is experiencing a significant rise in reports of outbreaks from schools, work sites and other congregate facilities. Many of them are related to social gatherings.
"It's spring. School is ending and people are gathering and COVID is spreading," she said.
She added that the variants circulating now spread much more easily than earlier coronavirus variants.
"Even if you've got omicron during the omicron surge, you can still get COVID again, unfortunately. I wanted to make sure that everyone understood that," she said.
Vaccination, she said, is still the best way to prevent hospitalization, severe illness and even death from COVID.
She advised people to keep the highest-grade mask handy and to wear it whenever indoors, especially if it's crowded or poorly ventilated. People should also use at-home COVID-19 tests if they have been exposed or develop symptoms, she said.
"If you do get sick, seek treatment; there is treatment available. There are pills that you can take to prevent severe illness from COVID," said Cody, who encouraged people to learn more from their health care provider.
Many people are eligible for the medication, Paxlovid, which is in stock at most pharmacies.
"We're also encouraging providers to get up to date on these pills. And so if you do get infected, you can get treated," she said.
Even though it's getting increasingly difficult to prevent infection, Cody said it's still worth preventing illness.
"That's because if you're sick, you're gonna miss work, you're gonna miss school, you might expose somebody else who's not going to do well with COVID. And if you get sick with COVID, you're at risk of long COVID, which you really don't want to get," she said.
"Two-and-a-half years in, we're not out of it yet," Cody said. "But every little bit that you do will help you stay safe and help our community safe."
The county doesn't have plans to add any restrictions apart from being aligned with California regarding the mask requirement. The state still strongly recommends masking indoors and the county follows that recommendation, she said.
"At this point in the pandemic, no one wants to issue restrictions," she said. "People need to take extra precautions and wear their mask indoors and be a bit more choosy about their gatherings, take them outside, test, etc."
The county recommends anyone who is over age 50 or who has certain immunocompromised conditions to get a second booster shot if they haven't already. The durability of the vaccines and boosters to prevent severe illness and hospitalization seem to be holding steadily, Cody said.
"People who are vaccinated and boosted are less likely to get infected and less likely to spread (it)," she said.
People should not try to time their boosters with when they think a surge would occur, however. Each new variant that emerges — particularly omicron and its subvariants — appears to gain an advantage over the previous variant and spread more easily.
Cody said she doesn't have a crystal ball regarding the future of the virus and when, or if it will fade away.
"We will continue to see peaks and valleys. How often the peaks come and how high they are and how dangerous they are, we don't really know," she said.
"I think that one thing to remember is that the conditions are present for new variants to emerge, and they could emerge really in any corner of the world. Certainly what we've experienced during this pandemic is that a problem in one corner of the world then spreads across the world. … I believe it is something that we're going to be living with for quite some time."
"But we also have to have balance and do those things that we enjoy doing," she said.
Watch the full press conference: