Caleb Sharp, Staff Writer
For some, Covid-19, lockdowns, and federal health mandates such as mask-wearing and social distancing are just that; distant, a thing of the past that ought to be left behind. And while it is true that the volume of Covid-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths is much lower than during the height of the pandemic, it is nonetheless important to be vigilant and aware of any increase in these metrics.
The good news is that, generally, these metrics haven’t experienced abnormal increases in recent months. In fact, these numbers have decreased as early as November 2022.
According to the Washington Post’s Covid-19 tracking charts, which are based on data collected by the Center of Disease Control and the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, the seven-day average of reported infections nationwide have dropped down from 50,785 as of January 21st, 2023, to 38,623 as of February 28th, 2023.
The noted decrease in infection falls in line with similar decreases in hospitalization and death rates. The seven-day average for hospitalization as of January 21st was 34,562, which has decreased to 26,622 as of February 28th. The seven-day average of deaths has dropped from 673 as of January 21st to 340 as of February 28th.
This downward trend is expected to carry on as winter turns to spring, which will give way to warm summer temperatures. Despite this promising decrease, an irrefutable cause for concern is the mutation of new Covid-19 strains.
During 2022, the Covid-19 variant Omicron comprised the majority of Covid-19 cases in the U.S. but has since decreased leading into 2023. What differentiated Omicron from the original strain of Covid-19, among other things, was its increased transmissibility. And much like Omicron and its heightened virality, another strain of Covid-19 is beginning to infect more people; XBB 1.5.
According to Kathy Katella, a Senior Clinical Writer for Yale Medicine, “The World Health Organization (WHO) has called XBB.1.5 the most transmissible Omicron strain so far. In the U.S., it has spread like wildfire in the New England area, where infections rose over a short period of time to almost 94% of cases as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at the beginning of February.”
While other areas of the country, such as the Midwest, have reported fewer cases of XBB 1.5 overall, “XBB.1.5 is the predominant strain in the country now, having risen to 75% of infections nationally in mid-February from less than 2% in December.”
The rapid spike in XBB 1.5 cases across the country is troubling, to say the least. However, XBB 1.5 symptoms don’t seem any more severe than Omicron’s.
According to Yale Medicine infectious diseases specialist Scott Roberts, “Studies are ongoing, but I suspect that it’s probably not more severe” than Omicron.
In light of XBB 1.5’s increased prevalence in the total percentage of Covid-19 cases and its rapid spread across the country, one can still take measures to protect themselves against infection. Covid-19 vaccines are still an effective defense against all strains of Covid-19, while masks help prevent the spread of airborne diseases.