Signs of winter COVID-19 surge grow

Signs are mounting that the U.S. may face a winter COVID-19 surge, which could strain the U.S. healthcare system, especially if coupled with a potentially severe flu season.

At present, COVID-19 cases are still on a downward trend. The nation's seven-day case average was 40,631 as of Oct. 9, marking a 25 percent decrease in the last 14 days, according to data tracked by The New York Times. The number of new COVID-19 hospital admissions will remain stable or have an uncertain trend over the next four weeks, while deaths are expected to fall, according to the CDC's ensemble forecasts.

"Despite cases still going down, there likely will be a winter COVID wave," Helix, a lab that helps the CDC track variants, told Becker's Oct. 10. "It is still too early to say to what extent a new variant will contribute to the winter wave, but growing reinfections and waning immunity make it highly likely that there will be a positive uptick in cases in coming months."

Helix's warning comes amid the growing prevalence of new omicron subvariants. BA.5 remains the nation's dominant strain, accounting for about 79.2 percent of cases for the week ending Oct. 8, according to the CDC's latest variant proportion estimates. BA.4.6 is now the second most prevalent strain, accounting for 13.6 percent of cases, followed by BF.7, which accounts for 4.6 percent of cases. 

In recent weeks, wastewater surveillance has also detected a sharp jump in virus levels in several Northeastern states, including Massachusetts. Health officials say wastewater surveillance can serve as an early warning sign, detecting an increase in cases before people undergo testing.

As of Oct. 3, the amount of virus in Boston's wastewater had increased 99.9 percent in the last two weeks, according to city data cited by boston.com

"Combined with flu season, increases in COVID-19-related hospitalizations will cause major strain on Boston's healthcare system," Bisola Ojikutu, MD, commissioner of public health and executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission, said in an Oct. 7 statement. 

Hospitals and health systems nationwide are already preparing for a potential "twindemic." On Sept. 29, leaders from 10 health systems and hospital associations met with federal health officials to discuss mitigation strategies ahead of a likely COVID-19 surge and severe flu season. 

 

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