Covid hospitalizations, deaths, and wastewater data are all increasing in the United States as the country enters the fall season. These indicators suggest a rise in Covid activity.
Hospitalizations have been on the rise, and deaths have also increased. Wastewater samples and lab tests across the country are detecting the virus.
Experts, such as Jodie Guest, a professor of epidemiology at Emory University, believe that these indicators show increased rates of Covid transmission in communities.
Tracking individual cases has become more challenging as states are no longer required to report numbers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and at-home testing has increased. Therefore, experts are relying on other tools to monitor the virus.
Hospitalizations are considered a good indicator of the severity of Covid disease. The number of hospitalized Covid patients has been increasing since hitting a low point in late June. As of the week ending August 26, there were over 17,400 people hospitalized with Covid, a 16% increase from the previous week.
However, hospital testing protocols have changed, and now only symptomatic individuals are being tested. This makes it difficult to directly compare current hospitalization numbers to those seen earlier in the pandemic, as asymptomatic cases may be missed.
Emergency room visits with a Covid diagnosis have also been increasing since early July. The week ending August 19 saw 2.3% of ER visits with a Covid diagnosis, up from 0.5% in early July.
Wastewater samples are showing an increase in Covid cases, indicating higher levels of the virus in communities. Marlene Wolfe, an assistant professor of environmental health at Emory University, stated that wastewater data provides a clear picture of the recent uptick in cases.
Deaths have slightly increased after a summer with weekly totals below 600. The week ending August 19 saw 636 deaths.
Other signs of increased Covid activity include knowing multiple people experiencing symptoms or testing positive for Covid and seeing empty Covid test shelves in stores.
Experts do not believe that the BA.2.86 variant is to blame for the current increases in cases and hospitalizations. Instead, the CDC attributes the rise to XBB subvariants, such as EG.5 and FL.1.5.1.
The advice to protect against Covid remains the same, including wearing masks, staying home when sick, getting tested if exposed or symptomatic, and staying up to date on vaccines. Improving indoor ventilation can also help prevent infection.
The FDA and CDC are expected to approve new Covid boosters in the coming weeks, targeting one of the XBB variants. Experts recommend waiting for the boosters to become available and encourage people to get vaccinated.