After a long lull that lasted through the summer and much of the fall, cases of Covid-19 appear to be ticking up again in the U.S., raising concerns that the country could be in for yet another wave of infections this winter.
Covid-19 hospitalizations are up 28% over the past two weeks, according to a New York Times tracking tool, and the average test positivity rate is up 40%.
The number of cases reported per day is a less-useful metric than it was earlier in the pandemic, but that count is up by 28% over the past two weeks.
Three months after President Biden called the pandemic “over,” rumblings of a long-feared winter wave come as an unwelcome diversion. At a time when much of the country has chosen to live as though the virus no longer existed, a rise in cases threatens to catch off-guard a nation with much else on its mind.
In absolute numbers, hospitalizations remain relatively low. There are 36,000 people hospitalized in the U.S., on average. That compares to 44,000 as recently as August, and more than 155,000 during the Omicron peak in January.
Still, hospitalizations are up from 26,000 in October, and trending upward. Data suggests that the brunt of that impact is being borne by older Americans: New-hospital admissions among adults aged 70 and up with Covid-19 have spiked sharply since mid-November, while admission among other age groups are climbing more slowly.
Whether these trends point to the start of a new wave of infections is impossible to say, as is what the increase could mean in terms of an economic and social impact this winter. Some local health authorities are already discussing a possible return of indoor mask mandates, which have evaporated over the past year. According to an L.A. Times report on Friday, officials in Los Angeles say that mask mandates could return if cases there continue to climb.
U.S. health authorities have long warned of the risk of a surge of cases this winter, and pushed for the rollout of the new bivalent boosters from
(ticker: PFE) and
(MRNA) in an effort to mitigate its possible impacts.
Uptake of those boosters, however, has been disappointing. Only 12.7% of people in the U.S. aged five and up have received an updated bivalent booster. Even more concerningly, only 32.6% of adults aged 65 and up, the population most at risk, have received a bivalent booster.
In the meantime, fewer tools are available to treat Covid-19 patients. Last Wednesday, the Food and Drug Administration suspended its emergency use authorization of bebtelovimab,
‘s (LLY) monoclonal antibody therapy for high-risk Covid-19 patients, because it is no longer thought to be effective against the most commonly circulating versions of the virus in the U.S.
Bebtelovimab was the last monoclonal antibody still authorized for use as Covid-19 treatment in the U.S.
‘s (AZN) Evusheld, another monoclonal antibody, continues to be authorized as a pre-exposure prophylactic for immunocompromised individuals, though the FDA said in October that it may not protect against some variants.
‘s Paxlovid continues to be effective in treating the current strains of the virus.
The BA.5 variant of Omicron, which was dominant throughout the fall, has been overtaken in recent weeks. Now, two related Omicron variants, BQ.1 and BQ1.1, account for more than 60% of total cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Both of those variants are thought to be resistant to Lilly’s bebtelovimab; only BQ.1.1 is thought to be resistant to Evusheld.
Write to Josh Nathan-Kazis at firstname.lastname@example.org