A growing number of communities are now seeing COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations at levels high enough to warrant indoor masking and other measures to curb the virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Thursday. A number of major cities are now considering a return to masking measures.
According to the agency’s weekly update, 13.7% of Americans now live in communities now classified at “high” COVID-19 community levels, up from 4.9% of the population last week. An additional 38.1% of Americans are in “middle” areas and 48.2% in “low” areas.
More than ten major counties with populations over one million are now at this “high” level:
- Los Angeles County, California (pop. 10,039,107)
- Maricopa County, Arizona (4,485,414)
- Kings County, New York (2,559,903)
- Queens County, New York (2,253,858)
- San Bernardino County, CA (2,180,085)
- Santa Clara County, CA (1,927,852)
- New York County, New York State (1,628,706)
- Suffolk County, NY (1,476,601)
- Bronx County, NY (1,418,207)
- Nassau County, NY (1,356,924)
- Pima County, Arizona (1,047,279)
The list includes much of the New York metropolitan area. State officials recently urged schools to return to indoor masking to curb the spread of COVID-19 as well as respiratory virus RSV and influenza. Los Angeles authorities have also warned that the indoor masking rules could come back to it as the cases multiply.
The updated numbers come as CDC officials say they are considering new “pan-respiratory” benchmarks to measure the spread of the three viruses, as a possible replacement for the COVID-19 Community Levels framework.
If incorporated into the CDC’s COVID-19 recommendations, it could mean influenza and RSV cases would also be considered when the agency urges Americans to don masks and take other precautions to help curb a surge that could overwhelm hospitals.
“We’ve also been working to try to develop, as quickly as possible, metrics that would be useful at the state or regional level to be able to visualize the level of overall respiratory viral activity,” Barbara Mahon of the CDC said this week at a meeting. the agency’s external advisers.
Mahon said the agency hopes the metrics will be “ready for release soon.”
“Restless Days Ahead”
While Biden administration officials say they are confident that this year’s increase in RSV appears to have peaked in most parts of the country, and that there are early signs that hospitalizations for flu could also have peaked, both remaining close to levels as bad as some of the worst previous seasons on record.
The pace of new hospitalizations for COVID-19 also increased nationally, up 13.8% from the previous week. In nursing homes this week, the CDC recorded the worst rate of COVID-19 infections among residents since last February.
It is now estimated that about two out of three cases are the BQ.1 or BQ.1.1 variants. Moderna and Pfizer say their lab data suggests their updated plans will provide additional protection against these Omicron strains.
But the immuno-evasive strains recently forced the FDA to bench the latest antibody treatment available for COVID-19 patients.
Federal health officials and some experts have encouraged doctors seeing vulnerable and immunocompromised patients to seek treatments like convalescent plasma, though they acknowledge they can be hard to find. Federal funding to support blood collection and increase plasma supply at the start of the pandemic expired in 2021.
“We are seeing a marked increase in COVID infections in just about every region of the country, up about 40% in the past two weeks. So three challenges are all coming at once. There are going to be days bumpy ahead,” Dr. Ashish Jha, the top White House COVID-19 official, told the Health Action Alliance at an event Thursday.
Jha said he urged people to seek treatments for the disease as well as an updated COVID-19 reminder.
Thanks in part to an expected slowdown in vaccinations over holiday weekends, CDC figures suggest the average rate of new COVID boosters administered has now dropped 66% from its peak in mid-October. On Wednesday, Mahon lamented that the pace of shooting is now “terribly slow”.
About 15.5% of adults and 34.2% of seniors now have an updated COVID reminder, according to figures released Thursday. By comparison, CDC survey data estimates that nearly 60% of seniors received the flu shot each year through November of last year.
“The good news here is what happens, how it all plays out, how disruptive is it, how many people are going to get sick, a lot of that is up to us,” Jha added.
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