US COVID markers continue slow summer rise

summer covid


Though the nation's COVID-19 activity is still at very low levels, markers that health officials use to track illnesses activity continued to show small rises for the third week in a row, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In global developments, only one world region experienced rising cases over the past month, with very few countries reporting rises in hospitalizations and intensive care unit (ICU) admissions, the World Health Organization (WHO) said yesterday in its weekly update.

First hospitalization increase since January

In the United States, hospitalizations—one of the CDC's main indicators—rose 10.3% compared to a week ago. A few counties in Arizona, Kansas, and Nebraska showed hospitalization at moderate levels. Deaths remained steady.

Early indicators also showed more signs of a rise. Emergency department (ED) visits for COVID rose 17.4% compared with the past week, with several states in the Southeast and Northeast showing substantial increases.

Test positivity, the other early marker, also continues to rise, up 0.9% and at 7.6% nationally. However, test positivity is highest in the South and Southwest.

Caitlin Rivers, PhD, an epidemiologist at the Center for Health Security at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said in her "Force of Infection" Substack blog that wastewater levels are now up in all four US regions, and noted that levels at this point of the summer are similar to the point in the summer when the nation experienced the Delta variant wave.

Given that the circulating variant mix mainly consists of XBB lineages, Rivers said she's hopeful that the updated vaccine, which targets XBB.1.5, will be a good match.

Sparse data reveal few global hot spots

The WHO said though cases are no longer a reliable marker of COVID activity, due to reduced testing and reporting, only the Western Pacific region showed a rise in cases over the past 28 days. The rise appears to mainly reflect modest upticks in South Korea and some Pacific island locations.

It said hospitalizations and ICU admissions may be more reliable, but few countries report their data. Of countries that reliably report hospitalizations for COVID, the only ones seeing a rise of 20% or more over the past month are Bangladesh and Malta.

No countries reported ICU admission increases of 20% or more during the same time period.

Regarding its variant tracking, the WHO said only three are showing rising proportions: XBB.1.16, EG.5, and XBB.

In Europe, COVID patterns are still declining or remaining stable, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said in its latest weekly update. The region is seeing mainly the XBB.1.5 Omicron subvariant in its virus sampling.

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