COVID-19 Hospitalizations in the US Seeing a Modest Rise, Unlike Previous Occurrences

by Sophia Chen
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COVID-19 trends

Once again, there is a noticeable increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations in the United States since early July, reminiscent of the slight rises seen in the three previous summers.

Despite the anticipation of an updated vaccine in the coming months, this summer’s uptick in hospitalizations might cause some concern; however, the current patient count is significantly lower than in the past. Here’s an overview of the situation:

Magnitude of the Increase

In the week ending on July 29, the number of COVID-19 hospital admissions reached 9,056, marking a 12% rise from the preceding week.

Nonetheless, these numbers pale in comparison to previous peaks, such as the 44,000 weekly admissions recorded in early January, the nearly 45,000 seen in late July 2022, or the staggering 150,000 admissions observed during the omicron surge in January 2022.

Dr. David Dowdy, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, reassures, “It is ticking up a little bit, but it’s not something that we need to raise any alarm bells over.”

Tracking Mortality

From early June onwards, the weekly death toll has ranged between 500 and 600 people. While deaths have appeared stable this summer, historical patterns show that increases in fatalities typically lag behind the rise in hospitalizations.

Monitoring the Virus

Across the nation, the concentration of the COVID-19 virus in sewage water has been steadily increasing since late June. Health officials plan to closely monitor wastewater levels as people return from summer travel and students go back to school.

Though higher concentrations of the virus are found in sewage, particularly in the Northeast and South, experts emphasize that these levels remain relatively low. In fact, they are about 2.5 times lower than those seen last summer.

Variant Insight

While a new subvariant called “eris” has become more common, no single variant has attained dominance. However, it’s crucial to note that this new variant, often referred to as “eris,” is not an official designation, and scientists are not using it. Despite the emergence of various mutations, there is no indication of variants as impactful as delta or omicron that drove earlier waves.

Dr. Cristin Young, an epidemiologist at Biobot Analytics, the CDC’s wastewater surveillance contractor, states, “Just because we have a new subvariant doesn’t mean that we are destined to have an increase in bad outcomes.”

Anticipating the New Vaccine

In the upcoming fall, updated COVID-19 vaccines are expected to be available. These vaccines will target one version of the omicron strain, known as XBB.1.5. This update is a departure from current combination shots, which combine the original coronavirus strain with last year’s most prevalent omicron variants.

The specific timeline for administering these updated shots is not yet clear. Pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer, Moderna, and Novavax are working on producing doses of the XBB update. However, the Food and Drug Administration must approve each version, and the CDC will subsequently provide usage recommendations.

Dr. Mandy Cohen, the new CDC director, anticipates that the COVID-19 shots will be administered in familiar locations like pharmacies and workplaces, much like flu shots. She emphasizes, “We have more tools than ever before” to navigate the upcoming fall and winter seasons.

(Original reporting by AP Medical Writers Lauran Neergaard and Mike Stobbe.)

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about COVID-19 trends

What is the current trend in COVID-19 hospitalizations in the US?

COVID-19 hospitalizations in the United States have experienced a modest increase since early July, resembling patterns seen in previous summers.

How does the current rise in hospitalizations compare to past peaks?

The current increase in hospitalizations, with around 9,056 COVID-19 admissions for the week ending July 29, is considerably lower than the dramatic peaks observed in earlier instances. For instance, the early January peak reached 44,000 weekly admissions, the late July 2022 peak was nearly 45,000, and the January 2022 omicron surge saw a staggering 150,000 admissions.

Are there concerns about the current hospitalization spike?

While there is a small uptick in hospitalizations, experts like Dr. David Dowdy from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health suggest that this increase does not warrant alarm bells, given the lower numbers compared to previous peaks.

How are COVID-19 deaths affected by the current situation?

Although the current summer shows stable death numbers, historical trends indicate that increases in fatalities tend to lag behind the rise in hospitalizations.

What is being done to monitor the virus and its variants?

The concentration of the COVID-19 virus in sewage water has been rising since late June across the country. Health officials are closely watching wastewater levels, especially as people return from summer travel and students head back to school. New subvariants have emerged, such as “eris,” but these variations are not as dominant or concerning as past variants.

What’s the outlook for updated COVID-19 vaccines?

An updated COVID-19 vaccine is expected to be available in the fall. This vaccine will target one version of the omicron strain, referred to as XBB.1.5. Pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer, Moderna, and Novavax are working on these doses. The timing of administration will depend on FDA approval and CDC recommendations.

How does this season differ from the previous ones in terms of vaccine distribution?

Dr. Mandy Cohen, the new CDC director, anticipates that COVID-19 shots will be administered where people receive flu shots, such as pharmacies and workplaces. This marks a transition from the earlier approach of setting up dedicated vaccination locations in response to the public health emergency.

What tools are available to manage the situation?

Health officials emphasize having a broader range of tools to deal with COVID-19, flu, and other challenges during the fall and winter seasons. This includes updated vaccines, enhanced monitoring, and improved understanding of the virus and its variants.

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