U.S. Covid-19 hospital admissions close to a low but new risk
U.S. Covid-19 hospital admissions close to a low but new risk

U.S. Covid-19 hospital admissions close to a low but new risk

A jumble of encouraging trends in the United States and regarding signs abroad raises questions about the course of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The number of newly admitted Covid-19 patients in US hospitals is approaching the lowest registered level after any previous increase. The seven-day average for patients with confirmed and suspected Covid-19 cases hospitalized fell to 6,406 on Wednesday, down from a record high of a peak of 28,000 in January, a Wall Street Journal analysis of federal data shows.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recently folded hospital data into societal risk measurements, which it uses to advise whether people should wear masks. in a public, indoor setting. The move is intended to focus on the severity of the disease, as case data becomes less reliable due to the increase in home tests. Almost the entire United States is now below the agency’s general mask recommendation point.

What is an endemic and how do we know when Covid-19 will become one? WSJ’s Daniela Hernandez breaks down how public health experts assess when a virus like Covid-19 enters an endemic phase. Photo: Michael Nagle / Zuma Press

“We’re far, far down,” said Ron Walls, chief operating officer of Mass General Brigham, a Boston-based hospital system that recently had several dozen Covid-19 patients. The number has fallen from a high of 623 in mid-January, although it remains above a previous low after rising to 10 in July last year.

But US health experts are seeing increasing numbers of cases of Covid-19 in parts of Europe. The United Kingdom is particularly worrying because trends that have tended to warn them in the United States. The spread of BA.2 Omicron variant and the easing of Covid-19 precautions – two factors that are also present in the United States – may, according to public health experts, be the driving force behind Covid-19 there. Research indicates that BA.2 is an even more contagious version of the virus.

“Our experience with Delta and Omicron is that what happens with Europe does not stay in Europe; it affects us, ”said Jay Varma, a physician and epidemiologist who heads the Weill Cornell Medicines Center for Pandemic Prevention and Response.

A new rise in infections could mean a need to resume some pandemic-related restrictions, said Megan Ranney, an emergency physician and academic dean at Brown University’s School of Public Health. She is concerned that the US will slow down its efforts to prepare for potential future increases.

“If we wait until when the increase hits to do the work, then be prepared, then it will be too late, and we will again get tests by mail, after the increase ended,” said Dr. Ranney.

King’s Cross station in London last month as England relaxed on Covid-19 precautions.


Neil Hall / EPA / Shutterstock

Doctors hope that rising levels of immune protection in the United States, from both vaccines and infections, will help dampen the effects of any future increase.

Data from the UK show that while cases and hospitalizations have increased, the number of patients in need of ventilators has remained low. The UK Health Safety Agency estimated in March that BA.2 represented more than four out of every five known Covid-19 cases in the UK.

The CDC estimated this week that BA.2 recently represented around 23% of US cases, far behind in the UK but on the rise for several weeks. The estimate rose to 39% in a region that includes New York and New Jersey, two of many states that recently revoked masking mandates as the winter wave retreated.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health in New York noted that the BA.2 prevalence has increased more slowly there than in some places abroad. The department expands one wastewater detection program to cover all counties and include sequencing for Covid-19 variants, she said.

The line at a high-speed test site in San Francisco this month.


David Paul Morris / Bloomberg News

Epidemiologists keep an eye on wastewater detection systems, which measure virus concentrations in wastewater and can provide a early glimpses of new trends. A CDC dashboard that tracks hundreds of such sites and looks for percentage changes over 15-day periods has recently shown an increasing number of sites reporting increases, a Journal analysis shows.

On March 11, about 39% of sites were higher over a 15-day period. This means that most sites still show decreases in Covid-19 virus concentrations. Some changes in the data may be related to movements from a very small baseline, said CDC spokesman Brian Katzowitz.

“We urge local health authorities to monitor their numbers closely and use this data as an early warning sign if wastewater levels continue to rise,” said Mr. Katzowitz.

Case data in the US has become less reliable due to increase in home testing, which is generally not caught up in state cases, and some states have called back on the frequency of their reporting. The seven-day average for reported cases was recently around 31,000, well below the Omicron peak above 800,000 in January, data from Johns Hopkins University shows.

The United States recently averaged about 1,270 recently reported deaths each day before a major revision in Massachusetts caused an artificial decline in the national census, data from Johns Hopkins shows. Deaths, a delay indicator, have not fallen as much as cases and hospitalizations, but have fallen from daily averages above 2,500 at the height of the Omicron rise.

Some hospitals are trying to take advantage of the decline in the number of Covid-19 patients. At trade show general Brigham, that means catching up on elective surgeries that have been pushed out in the recent rise, Drs. Walls.

At Albany Medical Center, the downturn has been a moral booster for staff following the recent Omicron-driven rise, said Alan Sanders, head of the Infectious Diseases Department at New York State Hospital.

“They go to restaurants, they go out at night, they visit people,” he said. “We can live a little again.”

Write to Jon Kamp at [email protected]

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