National numbers, August 20

While the rise in hospitalizations has been modest, test positivity is on a similar level to the last couple of surges, per the CDC. Data as of August 18.

During the most recent week of data available (July 30 through August 5), the U.S. reported about 10,300 new COVID-19 patients admitted to hospitals, according to the CDC. This amounts to:

  • An average of 1,500 new admissions each day
  • 3.1 total admissions for every 100,000 Americans
  • 14% more new admissions than the prior week (July 23-29)

Additionally, the U.S. reported:

  • 12.2% of tests in the CDC’s surveillance network came back positive
  • A 10% higher concentration of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater than last week (as of August 16, per Biobot’s dashboard)
  • 25% of new cases are caused by Omicron XBB.1.6; 21% by EG.5; 11% by XBB.2.3; 13% by FL.1.5.1 (as of August 19)

The summer COVID-19 surge continues. While wastewater surveillance data suggest that transmission trends may be turning around in some places, the virus is largely still increasing across the U.S. New variants are on the horizon, too.

Nationally, coronavirus levels in wastewater are the highest they’ve been since last winter’s holiday surge, according to data from Biobot Analytics. Viral concentrations have tripled since mid-June, and continue to follow a similar pattern to the Delta surge that we experienced at about the same time in summer 2021.

Biobot’s regional data suggest that the Midwest—which reported a serious spike last week—may have turned a corner in this surge, with viral levels going into a plateau. This pattern is based on just one week of data, though, so we’ll have to see what next week’s numbers show.

Wastewater data from the CDC and WastewaterSCAN similarly show continued increases in COVID-19 spread. Some counties in Southern states, such as Florida, Georgia, and Alabama, are reporting particularly large upticks. Hawaii may be a state to watch, too, as residents face health access challenges following the recent wildfires.

Test positivity also continues to increase, with the CDC reporting that about 12% of COVID-19 tests reported to its respiratory network returned positive results in the week ending August 16. Hospital admissions and emergency department visits are still going up as well, though these metrics are reported with two-week delays.

The CDC updated its variant data this week, reporting that Omicron EG.5 continues to outcompete other XBB lineages. EG.5 doesn’t have a huge advantage in transmission, though, so it’s increasing relatively slowly amid a sea of other similar variants.

But a new variant, called BA.2.86, may be one to watch more closely. Health officials are on the alert after seeing just a few cases in the U.S., Israel, and Denmark due to a number of mutations in this variant’s spike protein, which diverge significantly from other strains. (More on this variant later in today’s issue.)

While the CDC says it’s monitoring this new variant, the agency’s genomic surveillance is far sparser than it was a year or two ago. The agency and its research partners are now sequencing under 5,000 coronavirus samples a week, compared to almost 100,000 a week at the height of Omicron. With this small sample pool, the CDC is less equipped to catch BA.2.86, or any other variants that may arise.

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