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The original item was published from 9/28/2022 7:43:25 AM to 10/6/2022 12:00:01 AM.

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City News

Posted on: September 28, 2022

[ARCHIVED] 09/22/22 Weekly COVID-19 Dashboard

9-22-22

I said last week that I was watching the increase in viral concentration in wastewater with some concern, so I shouldn’t be too surprised to see a corresponding increase in the local official case rate, but I am surprised by how quickly the increase occurred. There’s been a large jump in confirmed and probable cases and percent positivity. Hampshire and Hampden county are still in the CDC’s “low risk” category, according to cases and hospitalizations, but most other MA counties have jumped to the medium risk category. Hospitalizations are up in Hampshire county, so we may be in that category next week.

This is an alarming trend. Anecdotal reports from local urgent care locations and emergency departments reflect this in long wait times – reportedly 15 or more hours in at least one emergency department in Western MA this past weekend. FIFTEEN HOURS! If you, for example, break a bone in your ankle, you may need to wait 15 or more hours in pain before you’re seen. And we’re not even out of the CDC’s “low risk” category! I’m concerned with how quickly cases are climbing and how quickly that seems to be translating to hospitalization rates. Hospitalization rates historically lag 3ish weeks behind a surge in cases. I’m not sure what exactly this means – perhaps there is already a large surge in infections that has been silent for a few weeks but has now reached a tipping point? I am sure, however, that several highly contagious variants of COVID-19 are circulating widely right now, capable of infecting anyone, including those who have previously been infected and/or vaccinated.

If you are invested in avoiding infection, this is the time to commit to risk reduction strategies that we know work: wear a well-fitting KF94 / KN95 / N95 mask, test before seeing vulnerable people, stay outside or increase ventilation and air filtration as much as possible. If you don’t feel well, even just a little, please try to be a dead-end in the chain of transmission by erring on the side of staying home until you’re very sure it’s not COVID. I hope employers and schools will encourage that as well – it’s just not worth working or learning through symptoms right now, as we’re watching hospitalizations rise. They may keep rising, but it's not a foregone conclusion. Each choice we make impacts the trajectory of what comes next. I know COVID-fatigue is at an all-time high right now. Me too! Whatever risk reduction strategies you can engage in now, like masking, aren’t forever. I’m trying to think of each decision as just one decision, one day at a time. Today I will wear a mask while I’m at work, or teach, or sit in class, or go into the grocery store. I’ll decide again tomorrow based on what I know tomorrow.

There is one more thing you can do that will make a big difference in the coming trajectory of illness: get up-to-date on your COVID-19 booster. Everyone over 12 can get the new omicron-specific bivalent booster. Pfizer has submitted an application to get it approved for 5-11 year old’s. Trials are ongoing for those under age 5. Uptake has been slow so far – only 4.4 million Americans have received it. This is not enough to avoid those 180,000 extra predicted deaths we talked about last week.
Don’t forget about the flu shot! We expect a normal flu season this year, which means it will also cause disruption and hospitalizations. Anything we can do to lower the surge in hospitalizations has to be top priority. A 15+ hour wait is not good for anyone, so try to stay out of there for preventable illnesses! There is no medical reason to not get the flu vaccine and the bivalent booster at the same time. You certainly can spread them out but the public health message from Dr. Jha, the White House’s pandemic response leader, is that convenience is key – getting two vaccines at the same time is not unusual and avoids issues of forgetting or putting off one of the vaccines.

Stay well, one decision at a time.

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

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