NEW YORK – COVID UPDATE – The United States is experiencing yet another surge in COVID-19 cases, continuing a pattern of the virus intensifying during the holiday season. Health officials are preparing for increased transmission as Americans return to school and work this week.
Key points of concern include:
1. Widespread Infections: Wastewater analysis, a reliable indicator of community viral activity, suggests that infections could be as widespread as they were during the previous winter.
2. Resurgence of Mask Mandates: Several health facilities, including all in Los Angeles County, have reintroduced mask mandates due to the rising cases. The new dominant variant, JN.1, appears to have a high infectivity rate, even among vaccinated or previously infected individuals.
3. Fewer Hospitalizations and Deaths: Although positive COVID-19 tests are once again circulating on social media, fewer people are being hospitalized compared to the previous year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 29,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations in the week before Christmas, down from 39,000 the previous year. Weekly COVID-19 deaths have also decreased, but the virus remains a leading cause of death and the primary driver of respiratory virus hospitalizations.
4. Impact on Hospitals: Hospitals are experiencing increased strain, with COVID-19 adding pressure to an already challenging season for respiratory illnesses. Hospitals are also dealing with flu and RSV cases.
5. Concerns About Long COVID: Even mild COVID-19 cases can lead to long-lasting complications. The CDC continues to recommend a five-day isolation period for those testing positive, although compliance has been an issue.
6. Return of College Students: The return of college students is a cause for concern as it may lead to more infections in the coming weeks.
7. Not Yet Seasonal: While COVID-19 has surged every winter since the pandemic began, it is not considered a seasonal disease like influenza. Various factors influence its winter waves, including holiday travel, colder weather, and evolving variants.
8. Low Vaccination Rates: Only 19 percent of Americans have received the latest version of the vaccine, which offers better protection against the JN.1 variant. Low vaccination rates are contributing to the surge.
Health experts emphasize the importance of vaccination and following public health guidelines to prevent further COVID-19 cases.