Covid-19 Hospitalizations Show an Uptick in the U.S. but Remain Low

Since the end of the nation’s public health emergency for the virus, hospitalizations are one of the best available indicators of trends in case totals

An image of a positive Covid-19 antigen test on a blue background
Covid-19 cases are on the rise in the U.S., but experts say it is not unexpected. DBenitostock via Getty Images

Covid-19 hospitalizations are on the rise in the United States this summer, mirroring a trend seen in previous years.

For the week ending July 29, just over 9,000 patients were admitted to hospitals with Covid-19, a 12.5 percent increase over the previous week, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). During the week ending July 8, that number was only 6,450.

Still, these are some of the lowest hospitalization totals since the pandemic’s early days. The number of newly hospitalized patients is well below where it was last summer, when it hovered between 35,000 and 45,000 each week in July and August.

“The U.S. has experienced increases in Covid-19 during the last three summers, so it’s not surprising to see an uptick after a long period of declining rates,” CDC spokesperson Kathleen Conley tells NBC News’ Theresa Tamkins.

“It’s not increasing at such a rate that’s alarming, and nothing strange is beginning to happen and [make] people sicker,” Lori T. Freeman, executive director of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, tells the Washington Post’s Fenit Nirappil.

As cases rise, some have argued for the government to remove the cost barrier to getting a Covid test, reports the Post. Since the U.S. public health emergency for the virus ended in May, free testing has not been as widely available. (The CDC has a website where you can search for free testing sites.)

With the end of the public health emergency, the CDC also stopped tracking community spread of the disease. Their website no longer reports case numbers across the country.

“Our magnifying glass is a bit smudged compared to where we were a year ago,” Josh Michaud, an associate director for global health policy at the nonprofit research group KFF, tells Wired’s Amanda Hoover. “Many of the data points and indicators that we relied on in the past are no longer available to us.”

Without records of community spread, officials are using hospitalizations and wastewater to track the virus. By measuring levels of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater across the country, health departments can get an early warning of a rise in Covid cases.

The virus has made a “sustained” increase in wastewater tests in recent weeks, Mariana Matus, CEO of Biobot Analytics, a wastewater surveillance company, tells Wired. Covid-19 wastewater levels are increasing the most in the Northeast and South, followed by the West and Midwest, writes the New York Times’ Apoorva Mandavilli.

The increasing Covid-19 rates could be due to people spending more time inside during intense summer heat, as well as summer travel, Michael Chang, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at UTHealth Houston, tells Fortune’s Erin Prater.

Deaths from the virus, which can lag behind hospitalizations, have continued to gradually decline. For the week ending July 8, there were 437 deaths reported.

“I think we do the public a disservice by saying that it’s over and let’s move on, because it is going to be disruptive this winter, and it will cause a number of people to die,” Katelyn Jetelina, a public health expert and author of the newsletter “Your Local Epidemiologist,” tells the Times.

People without recent Covid-19 immunity who are older adults or have weakened immune systems should get an updated booster shot, Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco, tells CNN’s Amanda Musa. As of May 10, only 43 percent of Americans over the age of 65 and 17 percent of the total U.S. population had received a bivalent booster, according to the CDC.

“I would probably go and get it right now if you haven’t been boosted recently,” Chin-Hong tells CNN. Updated boosters tailored to the XBB.1.5 strain of the omicron variant could be available in the fall.

The CDC still says that people who have Covid-19 should stay home, isolate from other people and wear a high-quality mask around others for at least five full days after symptoms start. Patients should continue wearing a high-quality mask until the 11th day after symptoms begin and isolate for longer than five days if symptoms continue, per the agency.

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