RSV and Flu Remain High as COVID Persists in Early 2024
Across the country, this winter has seen an unrelenting stream of respiratory illness, with RSV, influenza, and COVID-19 continuing to circulate at high levels after the holiday peak. As children return to school and adults to work, there are widespread concerns about hospital capacity and staffing shortages.
According to a CNN analysis of data from the Department of Health and Human Services, 10% of hospitals are reporting critical staff shortages currently, stretching resources thin. A report from a Minnesota Public Radio finds state hospitalizations near all-time highs, with long emergency room waits becoming typical.
High RSV Continues with School Return
RSV gained an early and dramatic foothold this season. Now, with students going back to school after winter break, officials fear accelerated spread. According to KSTP in Minnesota, metro ER waits have ballooned to 5 hours or more amidst the patient influx.
“We know that kids go back to school and suddenly you have one kid that brings in this virus and it just exponentially grows from that point on,” says Dr. Gigi Chawla of Children’s Minnesota.
KTLA in Los Angeles also reports RSV cases rising as kids return to school, with LA County now in the CDC’s ‘high’ transmission tier. Other regions are also seeing substantial impacts:
- Utah media report long hospital stays for RSV children
- Cape May County, NJ saw over 1700% rise in RSV hospitalizations
- Denver surveyor warns of rising RSV risk for seniors also
With RSV set to remain elevated for weeks, continued vigilance around prevention measures will be key, especially mask-wearing for symptomatic individuals.
Flu Wave Looms After Brief December Dip
Influenza has followed an unusually early and steep trajectory this season. After record high early rates, CDC data showed a dip in December. But health experts are warning this may be the calm before another wave, especially with kids congregating again post-holidays.
“We often see a little bit of a dip in influenza activity around the holidays before it picks back up again,” says Dr. José Romero, director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.
Regions like New York and Ohio which saw dramatic early flu rises are now seeing continued hospitalizations. California is also battening down for further flu impact based on Australia’s severe 2023 season.
Indeed, the early US flu wave has somewhat mirrored Australia’s experience from last year, raising real concerns about what’s still to come, explains Dr. Claudia Hoyen of Cleveland Clinic Children’s:
“In general, what happens in the southern hemispheres – in South America and Australia – what goes on there as far as flu season sort of predicts what goes on for us,” Dr. Hoyen says.
With flu expected to circulate for months still along with other viruses, officials emphasize vaccination and prevention strategies remain vital, especially masking around vulnerable groups.
COVID Trends Still Concerning After Holiday Highs
While recent data marks a possible crest from the big holiday COVID wave, levels still sit dramatically above last January. Wastewater surveillance and test positivity rates remain substantially elevated in multiple regions like San Francisco and Los Angeles.
ABC reports 38 states with ‘high’ COVID community levels amidst this lingering viral load. Continued circulation has meant more blending of strains like BF.7 and BQ.1.1 in recent months, with research ongoing into potential immune evasion.
For individual protection, Los Angeles County has updated mask recommendations:
“Residents are urged to wear high-quality, well-fitting masks indoors in public places to provide additional protection against the easy spread of these viral illnesses currently widespread in LA County,” a statement reads.
Meanwhile, CDC data shows less than 15% of Americans overall have taken the updated bivalent booster, leaving population vulnerability. States like Indiana have continued public messaging around shots for this reason.
With COVID transmission still high amidst winter viruses, masking and vaccination remain key tools suggested by officials during this challenging time.
|Very high after early, steep wave
School return accelerating
|Likely 5+ more weeks at peak levels
|Hospitalizations, long ER waits
Spread to seniors also now
|Brief holiday dip but likely resurgence
Some signs of further wave
|Months more circulation expected
Risk of matching severity of 2023 Australia flu season
|Pediatric deaths already climbing
Blending with COVID for more severe illness
|Clear cresting from holiday peak but plateued at very high levels
Variant mixing continuing
|Uncertain whether another seasonal peak could emerge
|Immune evasion potential with recombinant strains
Low bivalent booster uptake leaving population vulnerability
With this triple threat of viruses stacking up in communities nationwide, health systems find themselves deluged once more. Continued public cooperation around masking and vaccination will remain vital in the weeks and months ahead to stem impacts. Officials also emphasize staying home when sick can go a long ways towards relieving transmission chains.
As warmer weather eventually prevails, cases should dissipate. But likely not before continued strain for healthcare workers already operating in crisis mode after three pandemic years on the frontlines. Now, as in prior COVID surges, supporting hospital capacity remains imperative however possible.
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