The tripledemic, post-holidays: Where things stand

Heading into the second week of the new year, experts have their eye on COVID-19 as respiratory syncytial virus and the flu continue to recede. 

"We're seeing sustained increases of COVID-19 infections across the nation," White House COVID-19 response coordinator Ashish Jha, MD, told NPR in a Jan. 6 interview. "COVID-19 is the thing that concerns us most as we look at the days and weeks ahead." 

After a brief level off in December, COVID-19 hospitalizations, deaths and test positivity are all on the rise. An average of 47,500 people were hospitalized as of Jan. 8, marking an 18 percent increase from 14 days earlier, HHS data tracked by The New York Times shows. New admissions jumped 16 percent over a one-week period from Dec. 28 to Jan. 3. Deaths are also up 19 percent over the last two weeks, with the daily average at 509 deaths on Jan. 8. 

"The current increase in cases that we are seeing really began around the Thanksgiving holiday when people gathered. And as we went into the bigger holiday season — the Hanukkah/Christmas holiday seasons — that has accelerated infections further," Dr. Jha said. 

The rise in COVID-19 metrics comes as the new highly transmissible omicron subvariant XBB.1.5 accounts for at least 28 percent of U.S. cases, according to CDC estimates. World Health Organization officials have called it the "most transmissible subvariant" yet, citing mutations that allow it to adhere to the cell and replicate easily. So far, there has been no indication XBB.1.5 is more virulent. (Read more about the strain here.)

Cape Regional Medical Center in New Jersey has seen COVID-19 hospitalizations double over the last month, the hospital's chief medical officer, Andrea McCoy, MD, told The Press of Atlantic City, noting that patients 70 and older are disproportionately affected. Statewide, hospitalizations have steadily risen from 1,485 on Dec. 20 to 1,701 as of Jan. 6, according to health department data cited by the news outlet. 

Meanwhile, flu and RSV appear to be leveling off after an early and severe start to their season. Flu activity remains high, though it has declined for several consecutive weeks in most areas of the country. Nearly 19,000 lab-confirmed flu patients were hospitalized for the week ending Dec. 31. CDC data suggests RSV cases have been falling since November, when the positivity rate hit a high of 16.3 per 100,000. With more than two months of winter left, health experts aren't ruling out subsequent surges in these respiratory viruses.


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