There isn't much change to report in the official case count by community or county, but wastewater surveillance data continues to indicate high community transmission of COVID-19 in Hampshire county, and illustrates just how little correlation there is between viral concentration in wastewater, and therefore active infections, and official cases. The number of hospitalized patients with COVID-19 in Hampshire county and across the state continues to rise. I'm looking for bright spots, and so I am encouraged by the fact that while hospitalizations are increasing, there is little increase in COVID-19 patients severely ill enough to need a bed in the intensive care unit. That will be an important number to watch in the coming weeks and months. Degree of vaccination is highly correlated with lower risk of severe disease and death. Massachusetts has high vaccination rates so hopefully we won't see increased hospitalizations translate to a large increase in ICU patients and deaths.
Epidemiologists in the US are concerned about the "triple-threat" potential of COVID-19, influenza, and RSV in the coming months, particularly among young children and older adults. Unfortunately, the US is experiencing early and high flu and RSV activity. We don't know if those will "work together" to cause an enormous surge, or if the triple viral activity will naturally cause surges to spread out and occur one at a time.
In the past few weeks, we've seen an increase in the proportion of COVID-19 cases due new-to-us variants, BQ.1 and BF.7. We believe one of those two will become dominant and cause an increase in infections in the US. If that happens, it could play a role in the "triple threat" scenario I just described. To be clear, that means that the increase in infections and hospitalizations occurring right now is NOT due to the new variants.
Our local healthcare system is already burdened and the last thing we want to have happen is a huge surge of any illness that results in official or unofficial rationing of care. The best thing you can do to help is to get up-to-date on all your vaccinations, including the fall bivalent COVID-19 booster and the yearly flu vaccine. Your risk of needing the hospital - and dying from COVID-19 - depends on if you've been vaccinated. In general, those who are unvaccinated are 6x more likely to die, but that risk doubles (to 12x) for those over age 50.
You can also do your part by staying home when you have symptoms of any illness, not just COVID-19, washing your hands often, wearing a mask, and setting up the conditions for good ventilation if you're gathering (for example, be outside or have windows open).
Finally, if you test positive for COVID-19, get in contact with your healthcare provider or the state (mass.gov/CovidTelehealth) to get Paxlovid right away. Paxlovid is very effective at reducing disease severity and is not only for the highest risk people. Almost anyone over age 12 and 88 lbs can take Paxlovid. The standard statement is that they have to have at least one "risk factor" for severe disease. Almost everyone over age 12 will find themselves on that list at some point. It includes things we've called "high-risk" all along (such as heart disease, cancer, smoking, asthma, etc.) but many other conditions that we don't normally associate with "risk" (such as pregnancy, depression, learning disabilities, injury, etc.). You can see the full list on the CDC website. Assume that you are eligible! You probably are. Paxlovid is for so many people. Just increasing the number of people who take Paxlovid would drop our hospitalizations and deaths in the US by about two-thirds.
Megan W. Harvey, PhD (she/her)