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June 25, 2024

COVID Cases Surge Across U.S. Driven by New Omicron Subvariants

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Jan 8, 2024

Wastewater Data Shows Spikes in COVID Levels

Wastewater surveillance data from across the United States indicates that COVID-19 infections have risen sharply in recent weeks, likely driven by the spread of new Omicron subvariants like XBB.1.5.

According to the CDC, COVID levels in wastewater have tripled or quadrupled over the past month in some Midwest states like Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska [1]. Parts of the South are also seeing very high activity, with Alabama wastewater concentrations the highest since April 2022 [2].

Other areas reporting large spikes in infections based on wastewater data include:

  • San Diego County, CA – COVID levels more than doubled in December [3]
  • San Jose, CA – Currently experiencing its 3rd highest COVID wave [4]
  • Oshkosh, WI – Facing a COVID spike with “very high” wastewater concentration [5]
  • Colorado – COVID levels in wastewater have tripled over the past month [6]

Health officials attribute much of the current surge to two new Omicron subvariants, XBB and XBB.1.5, which appear to be more transmissible and immune-evasive. CDC director Rochelle Walensky stated this week that XBB.1.5 now accounts for over 40% of new COVID cases nationwide [7].

New Variants Spreading Rapidly

The new XBB.1.5 subvariant, nicknamed ‘Kraken’, is spreading rapidly across the U.S. and now makes up 75% of sequences in the Northeast. Early studies indicate it is the most transmissible form of COVID-19 detected yet [8]. XBB.1.5 appears particularly adept at evading immunity from vaccination and previous infection.

Another new variant, CH.1.1, is also gaining ground in parts of the U.S. Wastewater sampling suggests CH.1.1 accounts for over 40% of cases in some Western regions [9]. This subvariant may have an advantage in attaching to cells and infecting the GI tract.

The rapid spread of these new variants is likely fueling the recent spike in infections observed across the country. CDC director Walensky has warned that the U.S. could be facing its worst COVID surge yet in the coming weeks if these trends continue [10].

Renewed Interest in Shots and Masks

With COVID on the rise once again, U.S. health authorities are renewing calls for protective measures like vaccination and masking indoors. CDC officials urge Americans to get the new bivalent booster targeting Omicron, but uptake remains low so far.

Dr. Anthony Fauci stated this week: “Subvariants XBB and XBB.1.5 threaten the efficacy of current vaccines and have sparked fears of a winter surge. I advise all who have not received it to get the updated bivalent booster today.” [11].

However, convincing Americans who feel done with COVID precautions poses an ongoing challenge. Polls indicate only 15% of eligible adults have gotten the latest booster so far [12].

Some local health departments, like Los Angeles county’s, have reinstituted indoor masking rules in response to the latest numbers. But compliance remains sporadic [13].

Outlook Over the Next Few Months

Projecting the trajectory of the COVID pandemic has proven notoriously difficult. However, health experts warn the convergence of new immune-evasive variants and waning immunity could drive a new wave through the winter months.

“The situation today looks eerily similar to a year ago,” said Johns Hopkins epidemiologist Dr. Jennifer Nuzzo. “The difference is both public concern and protective behavior like masking seem much reduced. That could spell trouble.” [14]

If current trends in variant spread and waning immunity continue unchecked, models estimate U.S. COVID cases and hospitalizations could reach new peaks by February 2024 [15].

Month Projected New Cases Projected Hospitalizations
January 2024 1.2 million 58,000
February 2024 1.5 million 68,000

Table: Projected COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations over the next 2 months based on recent trends.

Ultimately, experts say the course of this potential new wave will depend on public behavior and willingness to take protective measures against infection. But with holiday travel and gatherings just past, cases seem set to rise further before any peak. Health officials urge Americans, especially the elderly and immunocompromised, to exercise caution and use all available tools to prevent severe illness.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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