While fears may be growing that another COVID-19 surge will be upon us in the coming months, there is some indication that the future is now.
There’s a reason data show that, while the U.S. positivity rate of COVID tests has spiked to five-month highs, and hospitalizations have steadily climbed to four-month highs, new daily COVID cases have held steady for the past couple of months.
The new cases are being undercounted because results of widely available at-home tests aren’t being reported for government tabulation. The Fourth of July holiday has also caused reporting delays. And many states have stopped providing daily updates, as the New York Times reported.
“There’s no question in my mind that we’re missing a vast majority of infections right now,” White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Ashish Jha said on NBC’s “Nightly News with Lester Holt” on Thursday. “The truth is, there are probably several hundred thousand, four or five hundred thousand, infections today happening across the country.”
That would put the daily case count at levels seen during the January surge of the omicron variant. The current outbreak is now mostly the result of the fast-spreading BA.5 subvariant, named the dominant strain this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It’s the rapid spread of new variants that keep boosting new case counts, even in people who may have previously believed they had become immune.
“We are seeing a lot of reinfections within months of prior infections. It’s a reminder that an infection does not give you lifelong immunity,” Jha said. “It’s also a reminder that we’re seeing rapid evolution of a virus that’s trying to escape that prior-infection immunity.”
It’s no wonder the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said last week that COVID-19 vaccine makers need to update their boosters to target subvariants.
“I remain optimistic that … however the virus evolves, the new vaccines will provide a greater degree of protection, certainly (greater) than the vaccines we have right now,” Jha said.
Meanwhile, a New York Times tracker showed that the seven-day average of new cases was 108,414 on Friday, up just 3% from two weeks ago. The daily average has remained within a relatively narrow range since mid-May.
At the same time, the test positivity rate reached 18%, having more than doubled in two months. The positivity rate reached its highest level since Feb. 1, when the daily average of new cases was above 425,782.
And the daily average for hospitalizations has grown steadily over the past three months to 36,300 on Friday, which is 17% more than two weeks ago and the most since March 6.
The number of hospitalized patients in intensive-care units has increased 17% in two weeks to 4,081, the most since mid-March, the latest New York Times data show.
If there is a silver lining, it’s that the daily average for deaths fell 8% from two weeks ago to 322, but that has been relatively steady since late April.
The number of Americans who have been fully vaccinated ticked up to 222.46 million, or 67% of the total population, according to the latest data from the CDC. And the number of people who have received a first booster shot rose to 106.62 million, or 47.9% of those fully vaccinated.
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Another growing COVID concern, besides the latest outbreak, are the negative effects of what is known as “long COVID,” as The Wall Street Journal reports. That refers to COVID symptoms, such as shortness of breath, brain fog and fatigue, that last months, and even longer, after an infection.
On a global basis, the total number of COVID cases recorded rose to 554.61 million, while deaths grew to 6,349,857, according to data provided by Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. leads the way by far, with a total of 88.55 million cases and 1,020,816 total deaths.