2 scenarios for virus season admissions: CDC

This fall and winter, U.S. hospitals could see similar levels of capacity and resource strain as last year, the CDC said in a Sept. 14 outlook on respiratory virus season. 

Overall, the agency anticipates hospitals will see a similar number of total admissions from COVID-19, flu and respiratory syncytial virus as last year.

"As with last year, the total number of hospitalizations this year is expected to be higher than what we as a nation experienced prior to the COVID-19 pandemic," the CDC said, adding, "It remains possible that hospitalizations this season may be higher than last year, with more widespread illness and healthcare system strain." Such an increase could be fueled by a number of factors, such as the emergence of a new COVID-19 variant or a severe flu season. 

The agency laid out two "plausible" scenarios for peak hospital demand from the three viruses this season, based on expert judgment, historical data and scenario modeling for COVID-19. 

Scenario A

  • Moderate flu & RSV season 
  • Moderate COVID-19 wave
  • Staggered peak timing

For this scenario, the CDC combined a moderate past season peak for flu and RSV with a moderate COVID-19 wave equivalent to last winter. In this scenario, COVID-19 admissions peak three weeks prior to flu and RSV. The combined peak hospitalization rate is roughly 20 percent lower than last year's peak, though still higher than pre-pandemic levels. 

Scenario B

  • Severe flu & RSV season 
  • Moderate COVID-19 season
  • Overlapping peak timing 

For this scenario, the CDC combined a severe past season peak for flu and RSV with a moderate COVID-19 wave equivalent to last winter. In this scenario, COVID-19 peaks in the same week as flu and RSV, and the peak hospitalization rate for all three viruses is similar to that of last year's season. 

A few more notes: 

—The CDC said it has "low to moderate confidence" in the assessment because of uncertainties surrounding when each disease will peak. Vaccination uptake is another key uncertainty. The agency noted it will update the outlook as it learns more about respiratory virus activity. 

— In early September, life sciences analytics company Airfinity released forecasts suggesting U.S. hospitalizations for the viruses will peak at the end of January, with total admissions for the viruses to reach 1.15 million over the season. 

Read more about where things currently stand with each of the viruses here


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