Covid-19 cases are on the rise again in the United States, but unlike previous waves, there is no substantial increase in hospitalizations and deaths yet.
The US reported nearly 140,000 Covid-19 cases on Wednesday, marking the third day in a row that the number of daily cases has surpassed 100,000, according to an NBC News tally.
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Nationwide, cases have risen about 58 percent in the past two weeks as the omicron coronavirus subvariant BA.2 and an offshoot of that strain called BA.2.12.1 continue to spread.
The last time confirmed cases exceeded 100,000 was in mid-February, when the winter wave fueled by the original omicron variant, BA.1, began to wane.
However, in the Northeast, where the vast majority of cases are reported, the number of hospitalizations and deaths is not as high as expected, a senior government official told NBC News earlier this week.
And with a large number of Covid infections undervalued for the use of rapid at-home testing, the number of severe cases seems even more hopeful, experts say.
Usually, when infections begin to increase, “we see an increase in hospitalizations about 10 days later and an increase in deaths about 22 days later,” the official said.
In fact, hospital admissions are rising to nearly 20,000 a day, a 20 percent increase in the past two weeks, according to an NBC News analysis of health and Human Services data — but officials say metrics are becoming a less reliable indicator.
In Massachusetts, for example, while Covid hospitalizations have risen, two-thirds of people hospitalized are so-called incidental Covid cases, meaning they have been hospitalized for other conditions but have also tested positive for the disease. virus, the state health ministry said. †
Meanwhile, deaths across the country have fallen to an average of 301 deaths a day, down about 17 percent in the past two weeks, according to an NBC News count, and a drop of more than 2,600 a day during the ommicron winter wave. .
The lower rate of serious illness in the Northeast may reflect the region’s high vaccination coverage, prevalence of testing and use of antiviral drugs, such as Paxlovid, which have been shown in clinical trials to reduce the risk of hospitalization and death of a patient. patient decreases by 89. percent, the official said.
dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease physician at the University of Toronto, said as communities continue to build immunity to the virus, people should expect new variants to have less of an impact.
The US has gained a high level of immunity to Covid through a combination of vaccinations, boosters and previous infection. Nearly 60 percent of people in the country were infected in February, including about 75 percent of children and teens, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported.
Covid wave could last until July
Bill Hanage, an associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard’s TH Chan School of Public Health, said that while the lower number of serious illnesses is “comforting,” the high number of infections is still something that cannot be ignored.
That’s because, he said, people who have been hospitalized with Covid but have no serious symptoms are still at risk of transmitting the virus to others, including at-risk patients and hospital staff, who may be forced to take time off from work. if they become infected.
“It’s something that’s not trivial,” he said.
Bogoch, of the University of Toronto, agreed, adding that people cannot ignore the impact of long-term Covid, which can cause a range of health problems that can last for weeks or even months.
Hanage also said the low rate of hospitalizations in the Northeast may not repeat in other parts of the country, especially in places where testing is not as readily available, mitigation measures have disappeared and vaccination rates are not as high.
According to a model from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which has made predictions about Covid’s trajectory during the pandemic, Covid cases across the country could remain elevated through July, especially in places where masks and vaccinations are being used. be low. Hospital admissions and deaths may also increase in certain parts of the country, Hanage said.
“We’ve seen very different epidemiological dynamics in the South, meaning Florida, Texas, the Sun Belt, and so on,” Hanage said. Whether other regions of the country see an increase in hospitalizations and deaths “will depend on how many people have been properly vaccinated,” he said.
Bogoch added that just because much of the north hasn’t seen a massive impact from the virus, it doesn’t mean there will be “no impact” in the US.
And the virus will continue to affect some more than others — such as the elderly, immunocompromised individuals and those with underlying health conditions that put them at risk for serious illness, Bogoch said.
Hanage said the best step people can take is to make sure they are up to date on their Covid vaccinations.
The government should also focus on getting resources for the most vulnerable who may not have access to preventive treatments, such as Evusheld, and antivirals, such as Paxlovid.
“If you’re poor and struggling with health care, you’re less likely to get Evusheld and you’re less likely to get Paxlovid, and you’re less likely to get a boost,” he said.
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