The Coronavirus Plague is Back Because She Has Never Left. According to the CDC Data, Hospitalizations Are up 10.3%; Emergency Department Visits are up 7%; Those Who Test Positive Rose to 6.3% from 5.8%.
If you are surprised to learn that your neighbor, co-worker, or kid’s best friend just tested positive for Covid-19, don’t be. Measures of Covid rates, including virus levels in wastewater, ER visits, test positivity, and hospital admissions, are increasing nationally, according to the most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. The good news is that we are starting from very low rates.
Doctors are watching the current trends for clues to Covid’s yearly pattern going forward. Other respiratory viruses such as flu and RSV typically start spreading in the fall and peak in the winter. Covid, a much newer virus that has mutated a lot since emerging a few years ago, so far has had winter surges as well as summer bumps, like we’re seeing again this year.
One possible factor: Heat waves are sending people fleeing for air-conditioned indoor spaces, where Covid transmits more easily compared with outside. Summer travel might also play a role, as people crowd into airports and bring their germs along with them, crisscrossing the world.
“We are in a very warm year and people are spending a lot of time indoors,” said Dr. Luis Ostrosky, chief of infectious diseases and epidemiology at UTHealth Houston and Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center. “People are congregating in air-conditioned settings and that is providing an opportunity for transmission.”
Covid-19 hospitalizations as of July 15 are up 10.3% from the previous week, according to CDC data. Emergency department visits are up 7% and test positivity rose to 6.3% from 5.8%. Hospital admissions include both people hospitalized for Covid as well as those who test positive when they come in to be treated for something else. Deaths remain low.
Overall, Covid rates are still near historic lows, a CDC spokeswoman noted. And for most people, Covid is far less dangerous than it once was.
“Because we may start seeing seasonality patterns like we do with other respiratory diseases, I think how big this wave gets this summer will be very telling,” says Katelyn Jetelina, a scientific adviser to the CDC and White House and author of the “Your Local Epidemiologist” newsletter.
There is no new Covid strain behind current cases. A mix of XBB variants, which are offshoots of Omicron, play the largest role, say scientists and doctors.
Covid mutates faster than influenza, so it’s changing more quickly and able to better evade people’s immunity from prior infections, says Jetelina.
Covid-tracking data isn’t as comprehensive as it once was. Many people aren’t testing at all, and use home rapid tests if they do, which typically don’t get reported to health authorities.
Since the federal government formally declared the end of the pandemic as a public health emergency in May, labs no longer are required to submit data on Covid-19 testing. Instead, the CDC testing positivity data comes from more than 400 labs that voluntarily submit data.
Wastewater testing provides some regional clues. In Houston, wastewater measures have tripled over the past three weeks, says Ostrosky at UTHealth Houston and Memorial Hermann. “That’s always a precursor to what we’re going to be seeing clinically,” he notes.
Already, the hospital and clinic have seen roughly double the number of people testing positive for Covid-19 over the past two to three weeks, Ostrosky says.
The most recent data from Biobot, a Cambridge, Mass., wastewater epidemiology company, shows a 17% increase nationally in the level of the virus that causes Covid for the week ending July 26 compared with the prior week. “It’s been this consistent uptick over the past several weeks,” says Mariana Matus, CEO and co-founder of Biobot.
The Midwest led the way with levels 40% higher for the week ending July 26 compared with the previous week. Levels were 13% higher in the Northeast and 15% higher in the South and Western states.
Source: WSJ, Sumathi Reddy
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