A subdued COVID-19 climb: What 4 experts make of it

COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are rising nationwide for the first time since January, though totals are still down significantly from last winter's omicron surge.  

As of May 1, COVID-19 cases were increasing in 46 states, according to data tracked by The New York Times. The nation's seven-day case average was 56,700, up 51 percent in the last 14 days. At the height of the omicron surge, this figure surpassed 800,000. 

New hospital admissions for COVID-19 were also increasing in 38 states as of May 1. Nationwide, the seven-day admission rate has increased 16 percent in the last two weeks to 17,248. This figure surpassed 159,000 daily admissions during the omicron surge's peak. 

At present, many cases appear to be mild and are not placing excess stress on hospitals. This trend may reflect increasing immunity to the virus, according to The New York Times. New CDC data shows 57.7 percent of people living in the U.S. had contracted COVID-19 as of February. Still, experts say protective measures should not be relaxed prematurely and warn that the threat remains of new variants emerging. 

Here are four experts' thoughts on the current state of COVID-19: 

Editor's note: Responses were lightly edited for length and clarity. They are presented in alphabetical order. 

Ashish Jha, MD. White House COVID-19 response coordinator: "We should assume there will be more challenges. Omicron is highly contagious, and many Americans still have inadequate or waning immunity, which means we remain vulnerable to more surges of infections that have the potential to strain hospitals, cause spikes in deaths and leave our healthcare system even more battered than it is today," he wrote in an April op-ed for CNN. He also said more federal COVID-19 funding to support surveillance, maintain testing capacity and expand access to treatments and vaccines is needed. 

Megan Ranney, MD. Emergency medicine physician and academic dean at Brown University School of Public Health (Providence, R.I.): "This wave of COVID in the United States, in the places where it is, is not dangerous in a way that prior waves of COVID were," she told The Washington Post, adding the fast-moving virus and growing family of omicron sublineages still pose risks. 

Eric Toner, MD, a senior scholar at the Center for Health Security at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: “Most of the cases are relatively mild. What we're not seeing is a lot of stress on hospitals, and that’s very encouraging," he told The New York Times April 29. However, Dr. Toner stressed that the pandemic is not over yet and said, "It may be a mistake to relax all of our protective measures too quickly."

Rochelle Walensky, MD. CDC director: "We haven't seen [hospitalizations] pick back up as much as we might have expected in prior times during this pandemic, thanks to, I believe, a large amount of protection in the community," she told the Post

 

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