America is recording its first surge in Covid hospitalizations this year, but experts say it is nothing to worry about.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed 8,000 patients admitted to hospitals across the country last week, up 12 percent on the previous seven-day spell and the first week-on-week rise since December.
Despite the rise, rates remain at historic lows. For comparison, there were 150,000 Covid admissions per week at the height of the pandemic in January 2021 and hospitalizations reached as high as 44,000-a-week earlier this year.
Deaths have also remained static and are at their lowest levels since Covid emerged, at around 500 per week.
Experts say the rise in hospitalizations may be down to the natural waning of immunity, which happens around six months after the previous wave of infections.
Covid hospitalizations across the US have now risen for the second week in a row. This may be driven by waning immunity levels
The above map shows the hospitalization rate for Covid per 100,000 people. It reveals higher rates in the South and West of the country
Some concerns were raised by more nervous experts that the rush to see Barbie and Oppenheimer in crowded theaters could fuel the spread of the virus.
But it is still too early to tell whether this has had an effect because it takes several weeks for infections to show up in hospitals.
Nonetheless, even the CDC is not concerned by the possibility with officials from the agency noting just this week that deaths have fallen to the lowest they’ve been since records began.
Dr Brendan Jackson, a Covid incident manager for the CDC in Atlanta, Georgia, said: ‘If you sort of imagine the decline in cases looking like a ski slope — going down, down, down for the last six months — we’re just starting to see a little bit of an almost like a little ski jump at the bottom.’
About 96 percent of Americans have a level of immunity to Covid, estimates suggest, via a combination of past infections and vaccinations.
The Covid vaccines were last rolled out in the winter, with immunity from them against infection waning about six months later — although they do still protect against severe illness.
Asked what is driving the trend Dr Michael Osterholm, an infectious diseases expert at the CDC, told CNN: ‘Waning immunity clearly is going to play a role in all of this, and we’ve seen this over and over again.
‘I’m feeling like summer and winter will be what we expect [for waves] going forward.’
Hospitalization rises are being recorded in the South and West of the United States, data shows.
There was no data released on how serious the illnesses were among patients on wards or how long they were being hospitalized.
Covid deaths are yet to rise, but often it can take two to three weeks for hospitalization to translate into a fatality.
The CDC is no longer publishing data on Covid cases because too few people are now getting tested for the disease.
The above graph shows Covid deaths recorded in the US per 100,000 people. These have not started to rise and remain at record lows
It is not clear whether a specific Covid variant is driving the uptick in Covid hospitalizations.
The most common strain in America at present is XBB.1.16 — or ‘Arcturus’ — but this is only behind 14 percent of cases. It was followed by XBB.1.9.1, behind 13.2 percent, and XBB.2.3, behind 13 percent.
Urging Americans not to be concerned, Dr Marc Siegel, a medic at New York University, told FOX News: ‘These are just embers of a fire that is not completely out.
‘…given the amount of immunity still around from prior infection and vaccination — coupled with the fact that we are still within the Omicron family with most infections remaining mild and hospitalizations showing only a slight uptick — I don’t see this as a harbinger of another surge.’
Also seeking to dampen fears Dr Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, said the uptick was still a long way from a storm.
She told NPR: ‘It’s like when meteorologists are watching a storm offshore and they’re not sure if it will pick up steam yet or if it will even turn towards the mainland, but they see the conditions are there and are watching closely.’
America has faced Covid hospitalization rises every year since the virus emerged.
Last year, there was a gradual uptick from April before hospitalizations began to decline in August. Hospitalizations also started to rise from July 2021 until late August but then started to tick back down.