Signs of potential US surge warrant caution, not alarm: 4 experts' thoughts

Even as U.S. COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to dwindle, upticks in other parts of the world have spurred concern over the potential for another U.S. surge. 

The daily average for new cases fell to 31,152 March 16, levels not seen since July 2021, data from The New York Times shows. On the same day, the daily average for hospitalizations was 25,553, down from a peak of more than 150,000 in January. 

Meanwhile, U.S. health experts are keeping their eyes on the situation in Europe, where cases are rising in some countries. In the U.K., cases and hospitalizations are simultaneously climbing — at least in part due to the BA.2 subvariant — raising questions about the cause, since a rise in cases have preceded a bump in hospitalizations in previous waves, and there haven't been signs BA.2 causes more severe disease. 

Another potential warning sign of a looming COVID-19 wave are rising virus levels in some of the U.S.' wastewater sampling sites that submit data to the CDC. 

Overall, the emerging expert consensus is that these signals warrant caution and preparation, but not alarm: 

"Our experience with delta and omicron is that what happens with Europe doesn't stay in Europe; it hits us," Jay Varma, MD, epidemiologist and director of Weill Cornell Medicine's Center for Pandemic Prevention and Response in New York City, told The Wall Street Journal

"If we wait until when the surge hits to do the work, be prepared, then it will be too late and we'll once again be getting tests in the mail after the surge," Megan Ranney, MD, emergency medicine physician and academic dean at Brown University School of Public Health in Providence, R.I., told the Journal. 

"We will probably see a bump up of infections as we lift mitigations [and] as BA.2 starts to spread and become more prevalent … I don't think [there's] going to be another major surge of infection. I think you'll see an uptick before you start to see continued declines heading into the spring and the summer," Scott Gottlieb, MD, former FDA commissioner and Pfizer board member, told CNBC

"There are too many reasons to believe that [a new variant] is likely in the months ahead, owing to extensive animal reservoirs and documented cases of spillover to humans, a large number of immunocompromised people in whom the virus can undergo accelerated evolution, rare but increasingly seen co-infections, and lack of containment of the virus globally," Eric Topol, MD, founder and director of the Scripps Translational Research Institute in San Diego wrote for The Guardian. "That, in itself, requires preparedness. Unfortunately, we have a mindset that the pandemic is over, which couldn't be further from the truth." 

 

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