COVID source shout-out: CDC’s respiratory virus surveillance

As fall begins, we’re approaching respiratory virus season—that time of year when viruses like the flu, RSV, common coronaviruses, and adenoviruses all spread readily throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Tracking systems for these viruses may also be helpful for following COVID-19 this fall and winter.

While COVID-19 doesn’t yet follow a predictable, seasonal pattern, its activity has increased with these other viruses in the last couple of years. (Indoor gatherings and travel, particularly around the holidays, lead to outbreaks of all kinds.)

This year, experts anticipate COVID-19 will spread with the colder weather again. But we have fewer systems tracking it than we did during earlier pandemic winters: no more case data, testing and hospitalization data aren’t as comprehensive or reliable, death data are significantly delayed (and more likely than ever to undercount true COVID-19 deaths), etc.

So, people seeking to keep up with disease trends in their areas might find it helpful to look at surveillance sources that include COVID-19 along with other respiratory diseases. The CDC’s FluView dashboard is one major source, presenting data from clinical testing laboratories and healthcare settings that participate in the agency’s regular surveillance programs.

Despite the name, FluView includes data on all viruses that cause cold and flu symptoms, including COVID-19. (In fact, the same lab network that informs this dashboard is also the current source of the CDC’s COVID-19 test positivity data.) FluView is a helpful place to see overall respiratory disease activity for the U.S. as a whole and for particular states and regions. I find the state-by-state map of influenza-like activity particularly useful.

Tracking COVID-19 during fall and winter 2023 is going to be harder than it’s been during prior years. But we aren’t entirely in the dark. The CDC’s respiratory virus surveillance programs are one helpful source to look at, along with wastewater surveillance and the other COVID-specific programs that remain active.

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