Thursday, December 01, 2022

It’s not over: COVID-19 cases on the rise again in the US

Laura Ungar, Associated Press

Published Friday, April 15, 2022 at 11:25 am EDT

Last updated Friday, April 15, 2022 at 11:25 am EDT

Still, the US could be in for another COVID-19 surge after a two-month decline with cases rising nationally and in most states.

A big unknown? “We don’t know how high that mountain will be,” said Dr. Stuart Campbell Ray, an infectious disease specialist at Johns Hopkins University.

No one expected it to be as high as the previous peak, when the infectious Omicron version of the coronavirus ripped through the population.

But experts warn that the coming wave – caused by a mutant called BA.2, which is known to be about 30% more contagious – will spread across the country. He worries that hospitalizations already in some parts of the Northeast will increase in a growing number of states in the coming weeks. And the case wave will be bigger than it looks, he says, because the numbers reported are much larger as more people test at home without reporting their infections or skip testing altogether.

At the height of the previous omicron surge, reported daily cases peaked in the hundreds of thousands. As of Thursday, the seven-day rolling average for daily new cases rose to 39,521 from 30,724 two weeks ago, according to Johns Hopkins data collected by The Associated Press.

Dr. Eric Topol, head of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, said the number would continue to rise until growth reached about a quarter of the height of the previous “monstrous”. He added that BA.2 could have the same effect in the US as it did in Israel, where it created a “bump” in matters of measuring charts.

Keeping the increase somewhat under control, experts said, the US has higher levels of immunity from vaccinations or previous infections than in early winter.

But Ray said the US may stop looking like Europe, where BA.2 growth was “substantial” in some places with comparable levels of immunity. “We can have a lot of bounce here,” he said.

Both the experts said that BA.2 will gradually roll out across the country. The Northeast has been hit hardest by far – with more than 90% of new infections due to BA last week, compared to 86% nationally. As of Thursday, the highest rates of new COVID cases per capita in the past 14 days were in Vermont, Rhode Island, Alaska, New York and Massachusetts. In Washington, D.C., which also ranks in the top 10 for new case rates, Howard University announced it would move most undergraduate classes online for the rest of the semester due to a “significant increase in COVID-19 positivity” in the district. doing. on campus.

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In some states, such as Rhode Island and New Hampshire, daily new cases averaged more than 100% in two weeks, according to data from Johns Hopkins.

In New Hampshire, cases surged two weeks after all 11 state-managed vaccination sites were closed, and the governor is being pressured by some advocates to reverse course.

Rhode Island Department of Health spokesman Joseph Wendelken said the metric they’re most focused on right now is hospitalizations, which are relatively low. About 55 COVID-19 patients are hospitalized, compared to more than 600 at one point in the pandemic.

Officials attribute the high vaccination rates. State figures show that 99% of Rhode Island adults have been at least partially vaccinated and 48% have received a booster dose, which scientists say is important in protecting against serious disease with Omicron.

Hospitals have a relatively high level of vaccinations and fewer patients compared to the height of the first omicron wave in Vermont. But the health commissioner there, Dr. Mark Levine, said there was a slight increase in both hospitalizations and the number of patients in intensive care units, although deaths did not.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that new hospital admissions of patients with confirmed COVID-19 were up slightly in New England and the New York area.

On the West Coast, modelers at Oregon Health & Science University are forecasting a modest increase in hospitalizations over the next two months in a state where cases have also risen sharply.

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As the wave rolls across the country, experts said states with low vaccination rates could face significantly higher infections and severe cases that wind up in hospital.

Ray said government leaders should be careful when talking to people about their own and others’ safety after the massive lifting of COVID restrictions. Philadelphia recently became the first major US city to reinstate its indoor mask mandate following a sharp increase in infections. But Levine, of Vermont, said there are no plans to roll back any restrictions previously imposed during the pandemic.

“Instituting restrictive, drastic measures will be hard,” Ray said. “Luckily, we have some tools that we can use to reduce the risk. And so I hope that leaders will emphasize the importance of looking at the numbers for people,” being aware of the risks and wearing masks and Consider taking precautions like vaccination and boosting if they aren’t already.

Lynn Richmond, a 59-year-old breast cancer survivor who lives in Silver Spring, MD, said she plans to get her second booster and continues to wear her mask in public because of cases in her state and nearby Washington, D.C. grow.

“I never really stopped wearing my mask—I’ve been hyper-vigilant,” she said. “I think I’ve come this far; I don’t want to get COVID. ,

At the 250-bed New Hampshire Veterans Home in Tilton, staff are still wearing masks and maintaining social distancing. Veterans are allowed limited excursions to places like antique race car museums and restaurants where they can have a separate room and the wait staff are masked.

Vigilance is a good strategy, experts said, as the coronavirus continues to throw curveballs. One of the latest: Even more infectious subtypes of BA.2 were found in New York State, known as BA.2.12 and BA.2.12.1. And scientists warn that new and potentially dangerous forms could emerge at any time.

“We should not think that the pandemic is over,” Topol said. “We must still keep our guard up.”

Associated Press journalists Wilson Ring in Stowe, Vermont, and Holly Reimer and Kathy McCormack in Concord, New Hampshire, contributed to this report.

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