National numbers, December 11

The CDC’s influenza-like illness map shows that the vast majority of the country is facing either high or very high levels of respiratory disease.

In the past week (December 1 through 7), the U.S. reported about 460,000 new COVID-19 cases, according to the CDC. This amounts to:

  • An average of 66,000 new cases each day
  • 140 total new cases for every 100,000 Americans
  • 50% more new cases than last week (November 24-30)

In the past week, the U.S. also reported about 34,000 new COVID-19 patients admitted to hospitals. This amounts to:

  • An average of 4,800 new admissions each day
  • 10.3 total admissions for every 100,000 Americans
  • 14% more new admissions than last week

Additionally, the U.S. reported:

  • 3,000 new COVID-19 deaths (430 per day)
  • 68% of new cases are caused by Omicron BQ.1 and BQ.1.1; 6% by BF.7; 4% by BN.1;  5% by XBB (as of December 10)
  • An average of 300,000 vaccinations per day

It’s now undeniable that Thanksgiving led to a jump in COVID-19 spread: officially-reported cases went up 50% this past week compared to the week of the holiday, following the trend that we first saw in wastewater data. Hospital admissions for COVID-19 also continue to go up.

As always, it’s important to remember that official case counts are significantly underreported, due to dwindling access to (and interest in) PCR testing. So, the CDC’s estimate of 66,000 new COVID-19 cases each day likely amounts to over a million actual new infections each day. And that’s adding to the surges of flu, RSV, and other respiratory viruses already going strong.

“Levels of flu-like illness, which includes people going to the doctor with a fever and a cough or sore throat, are at either high or very high levels in 47 jurisdictions,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said at a media briefing last Monday. That “flu-like illness” metric, shown on the CDC’s flu dashboard, is primarily used as an estimate of flu cases, but in our era of under-testing it likely includes COVID-19 and other viruses with similar symptoms.

Dr. Walensky said that current hospitalizations for flu are the highest they’ve been in a decade for this time of year, indicating that the U.S. is having a bad flu season earlier in the winter than usual. According to Inside Medicine, flu hospitalizations actually overtook COVID-19 hospitalizations for the first time in the pandemic recently; though this trend could reverse as COVID-19 spreads more.

The flu surge could peak and give us a milder January, or it could continue to go up from here—it’s currently hard to say. Flu vaccination rates have been low this year, which doesn’t help. CDC officials highlighted the benefits of both the flu vaccine and the updated COVID-19 booster shots at their briefing on Monday.

Those updated COVID-19 boosters offer better protection against Omicron infection than prior vaccines, as real-world data has demonstrated. That should include protection against BQ.1 and BQ.1.1, the descendants of Omicron BA.5 that are currently causing the majority of cases in the U.S.—about 68% of new cases in the week ending December 10, per the CDC. XBB, the BA.2 subvariant that led to surges in Asian countries, is on the rise.

Last week, wastewater data from Biobot showed a steep increase in COVID-19 spread. This week, the company’s dashboard suggests that this surge may have already peaked in some parts of the country. Was Thanksgiving the start of a major winter wave, or was it more of a holiday blip? Future weeks of data will help answer this.

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