Home One community How big is the latest wave of covid in the US? Nobody really knows.

How big is the latest wave of covid in the US? Nobody really knows.

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Eileen Wassermann is struggling to calculate her daily risks at this stage of the coronavirus pandemic – with infections dramatically underestimated and mask mandates gone.

The 69-year-old, immunocompromised, settles into her SUV for the half-hour ferry ride across Puget Sound from her home on Seattle’s Bainbridge Island, where she is undergoing treatment for the rare sarcoidosis inflammatory state.

A retired scientist and lawyer who has worked with pharmaceutical companies, Wassermann is comfortable analyzing coronavirus data. But she said the current figures, which do not take into account most home test results, are unreliable.

“My mode, which may seem ridiculous at this point, is to be as careful as I was at the start of 2020,” said Wassermann, who received two booster doses of the coronavirus vaccine. “I don’t always want to walk around like a scared cat, but on the other hand, with this immune condition that I have, I don’t want to take any chances.”

Americans like Wassermann are navigating murky waters in the latest wave of the pandemic, with highly transmissible omicron subvariants spreading as governments abandon measures to contain the virus and reveal less infection data. As public health authorities focus on covid-related hospitalizations as the death toll from the pandemic in the United States reaches 1 million, people are largely on their own to assess the risk amid what could be a stealthy push.

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Experts say Americans can assume infections in their communities are five to 10 times higher than official figures.

“Any kind of look at the measurements on either a local, state or national level is a serious undercount,” said Jessica Malaty Rivera, epidemiologist at the Pandemic Prevention Institute housed at The Rockefeller Foundation. “Everyone knows someone who is getting covid now.”

Nationwide hospitalizations are up 50% since bottoming out six weeks ago. But the nearly 23,000 covid patients in hospitals over the past week still represent near the lowest hospitalization levels of the entire pandemic. The recent The increase is driven by the North East, where hospitalization rates are almost twice as high as in any other region.

Reported cases of covid have also tripled in the Northeast in just over a month, driving much of the growth nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The country has averaged nearly 90,000 new cases every day over the past week, three times more than the low point in March.

The latest rise in infections tests a new CDC alert system adopted by many local and state governments that classifies community levels of covid-19 as “low,” even with the number of new cases reaching a level once considered high.

More than two-thirds of Americans live in low-risk areas by these parameters. But 43% of the inhabitants of the North-East live in areas considered high risk, compared to 9 percent in the Midwest and less than 1 percent each in the South and West.

“If there’s one word to sum up where we are, it’s ‘unpredictable,'” said Jeffrey S. Duchin, the top public health official in Seattle and King County, where the cases have increased significantly in recent weeks after falling following the omicron wave. .

“Things are clearly better than they were in the past,” Duchin said. “Vaccines do a great job of keeping people out of hospital, but the virus is becoming more and more transmissible.”

Experts say the rise in infections isn’t surprising, especially after governors scrapped indoor mask mandates and a judge struck down the federal mask requirement for public transportation. Spring is also a season for gatherings, from Easter brunch to balls and graduations.

“It’s the next phase of getting back to normal: every time we take that next big step, there’s always a rebound,” said David Rubin, national coronavirus trend tracker for Children’s Hospital PolicyLab. Philadelphia. “If you are at risk, you should exercise caution and definitely consider masking up in public places.”

Public health authorities aren’t as concerned about the rise in cases as those infected are increasingly vaccinated and strengthened and have access to therapeutics such as the antiviral Paxlovid that help prevent people from falling badly. sick.

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But doctors say the new CDC public reporting categories obscure the true risk of contracting covid-19, which is still disrupting lives, can lead to long-term complications and poses increased danger to the elderly and immunocompromised.

“It allows people to move around and have a false sense of security,” said Jayne Morgan, executive director of the covid task force at Piedmont Healthcare in Georgia.

“It’s worrying in a public health crisis we’ve moved away from the practice of prevention,” Morgan added. “The best doctors always practice preventive health care. That’s why you get mammograms. That’s why you do colonoscopies. You don’t wait for the cancer to grow.

The District of Columbia is among the communities where tensions are simmering as residents question the official low-risk community designation.

Local health officials stopped posting daily cases on their website after the omicron wave, telling residents to treat the coronavirus more like an endemic disease and less like an emergency. In recent weeks, the city has also stopped reporting sewage virus monitoring results and providing daily data to the CDC, leaving people with little information as infections rise.

Residents once used to checking numbers on community spread before cementing social plans don’t know what weight to give to anecdotal reports of childcare outbreaks, friends and co-workers falling ill, and infections at the recent Correspondents’ Association dinner the White House.

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“I’m just catching in the dark what the cases look like in my community,” said Isabela Karibjanian, a 24-year-old policy researcher who wants to take advantage of her latest months in DC before moving to Europe for graduate school this summer.

She has found herself erring on the side of caution in recent weeks by gathering outside with friends to avoid infection before attending a bridal shower and hosting an out of town visitor.

“You can never know the whole picture, but having those numbers reassured me that I wasn’t about to go into a massive wave,” she said.

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The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimates that only about 13% of cases are detected. But the organization’s director, Christopher Murray, says the US is still in good shape and not on track for a wave of omicron subvariants seen in the UK.

“We have very, very low intensive care admissions. We have very few deaths. And we probably have very high levels of immunity because omicron has infected so many people, vaccination is moderately high, and a number of people are boosted,” Murray said. “We are in a good state and we will remain so until the fall and winter, when the immunity has decreased a lot or until a new unpleasant variant appears.”

John Brownstein, director of innovation at Boston Children’s Hospital, said New England is experiencing a hidden covid surge based on survey data suggesting five home coronavirus tests positive for two lab tests. But that hasn’t led to a worrying rise in hospitalizations.

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New York State has recorded one of the highest levels of hospitalizations in the country for covid-19 in 14 out of 100,000 residents as of Monday, according to the Washington Post tracker. But hospitals say this is skewed by patients admitted for other reasons and then testing positive for coronavirus.

Mangala Narasimhan, chief of critical care services at Northwell Health, New York’s largest health network, said covid patients are not coming in with pneumonia and are struggling to breathe like they had been. the last two years.

“A lot of people I know in the community have covid,” she said. “None of that is reflected here in the hospitals.”

Delaware and Maine have the highest per capita hospitalization rates in the nation, at 18 per 100,000 people. But hospital associations in both states say their situation is manageable. In Delaware, the 111 patients hospitalized last Thursday are well below the peak of 759 in January that prompted hospitals to declare a crisis allowing them to ration care.

Watching reports of rising cases in the Northeast, Josh Elliott is worried about returning to once-regular pleasures such as attending concerts and dining indoors in his suburb of Atlanta .

Elliott is extremely cautious because asthma and lung damage from pneumonia put him at higher risk of serious illness from covid-19. He worries about a hidden surge since Georgia is now reporting cases weekly instead of daily.

With reliable data, Elliott said he would feel more comfortable attending a friend’s upcoming wedding and celebrating his upcoming 30th birthday at a restaurant with his girlfriend — instead of eating takeout.

“I want to have a good birthday meal and not bring it home and be covid for my birthday,” he said.