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The original item was published from 8/10/2022 9:38:33 AM to 8/17/2022 10:05:04 AM.

News Flash

City News

Posted on: August 10, 2022

[ARCHIVED] 8/4/22 Weekly COVID-19 Dashboard


There's not much to report in regards to changes to the case rate and percent positivity again this week. We're in a pattern of the official case rate slightly rising or falling, but given what we know about the underreporting of cases, I wouldn't place much emphasis on those slight fluctuations. 

Surveillance data from wastewater can give us a good idea of what might be happening in real time. After a significant increase in viral concentration in wastewater two weeks ago, we have now observed a similar significant decrease in viral concentration in wastewater last week. We'll be able to see the true trend in virus in the community via wastewater data as the next few weeks pass and we see if the increase and decrease is part of the "up and down" trend, or if it's the start of a new trend. 

What we can say for right now is that we are in the midst of a plateau of substantial community transmission. The up and down official case rate and wastewater data point to that conclusion, as does the county categorizations from the CDC. Community transmission in Hampshire County is high, as it is in most locations in the US - that's the entirely red county map on the right side of the dashboard. While infections are high in Hampshire County, the burden on the hospitals remains low, however, and Hampshire county remains in the "low" county risk level category - this is the mostly green county map to the left. I'm afraid that this is a little misleading. It sounds like hospitalizations are low, but actually, hospitalizations are fairly high in Hampshire County and Massachusetts, and slowly increasing. 

This situation is sort of a head-scratcher! A line from Michael Shears in a recent New York Times article summarized the situation well: COVID-19 "remains a persistent, if muted, threat in a country trying to put the pandemic in the past." We seem to know what to do and what we want to do during a clear surge in cases. We don't seem to know what to do, if anything, during a plateau, and we can't agree on if we're "okay" with the plateau. This is not the time to accept the current status of COVID-19. There's a lot of nuance in the discussion of when COVID-19 should be considered "endemic" (like the flu, for instance), but a clear line in the sand for epidemiologists surrounds the impact on the healthcare system and the death rate. 

COVID-19 is currently killing about 400 people in the US each day. It's hard to get a sense of what that means, but comparing to the death rate during our previous large surges can help with perspective. For example, about 2300 people died from COVID-19 each day in April of 2020, and about 3400 people died each day at the highest peak in daily deaths during January 2021. Compared to that, 400 deaths per day is certainly far less than we've experienced. But let's also compare the daily death toll of COVID-19 to other leading causes of death in the US. Our two leading causes of death, heart disease and cancer, cause the death of 1800 and 1600 people each day in the US, respectively - far more than other leading causes of death. The third, fourth, and (usually) fifth leading causes of death in the US are chronic respiratory diseases (for example, COPD), stroke, and Alzheimer's disease, which cause the death of about 430, 410, and 330 people each day, respectively. Again, COVID-19 causes the death of about 400 people each day! That number fluctuates, but it's been steadily high almost all 2022, when vaccines and treatment are readily available to prevent severe disease and death. That means that COVID-19 is the FOURTH leading cause of death in the US, causing more daily deaths than Alzheimer's disease! Another important comparison to consider is how many daily deaths are caused by the flu - 136 deaths per day. COVID-19 and the flu aren't in the same ballpark. 

That was a deep dive, so I'll summarize the point of it: We're in a substantial plateau of cases and deaths in the US, to which we seem to collectively not know how to react. This "plateau" though is causing massive harm to families all over the US. We are losing far too many people to consider COVID-19 endemic, or to settle for the situation we have now. 

I don't have a fabulous solution to this complex issue. The best epidemiology and infectious disease can offer right now is that we need to keep funding research on better vaccines and more treatments, we need to get more people fully vaccinated and boosted, and we need folks to get treatment quickly if they are infected and high-risk. A KF94 or better mask that fits tightly works incredibly well to protect the wearer, so those who are concerned should absolutely be masking right now. And finally, consider your community by doing things like wear a mask around others when you can, especially if they've asked you to, and by isolating for longer than 5 days if you can, and if not, by making sure to always be wearing an N95 mask between days 5-10, and beyond if you're still testing positive or have symptoms. Studies indicate that more than 50% of people are still infectious after day 5, and 10% are still infectious after day 10! The CDC's 5 day minimum isolation recommendation is based on the need for essential workers to return to their jobs after 5 days, but if you can isolate until you're sure you are no longer infectious, please do so for your community. 

Stay well,

Megan W. Harvey, PhD (she/her)Epidemiologist

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