COVID-19 cases are rising sharply again — should we worry?

Authors: John Woolfolk, Bay Area News Group  Apr 24, 2022

COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are rising once again across the country, driven by more contagious subvariants of the virus and leaving health experts unsure whether vaccination and immunity from prior infection will be protective enough to prevent yet another deadly wave of infections.

Nearly a third of the country is now registering substantial or high levels of COVID-19 transmission in the last seven days, including most Bay Area counties at the high level, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But now, more than two years into the pandemic, what exactly does that mean in terms of serious illness?

Hospitalizations from COVID-19 are up over 30% in the last two weeks in New York state, said Dr. Céline Gounder, an infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist and Editor-at-Large for Public Health at Kaiser Health News. “The situation in the Northeast may foreshadow what’s to come in the Bay Area.”

Death rates mostly have yet to increase, but in earlier waves, they tended to follow the trend in hospitalizations.

The rising numbers follow a relatively short reprieve from this winter’s nationwide surge propelled by the highly contagious omicron variant. Omicron began spreading in December, with infections peaking a month later and then dropping sharply through February and March.

Nationally, average daily cases are up more than 70% since the end of March, though they remain far below the omicron and delta peaks, and the decline in hospitalization rates appears to be reversing. In California, average daily cases have gone up by more than 50% since the end of March.

The rebound comes just as U.S. officials dropped the mask mandate for public transportation after a judge in Florida said it exceeded their authority — with people from all over now crowding unmasked into planes, buses, subways and rail cars. Though the federal government is appealing the judge’s ruling, airlines and many transit operators indicated the mask mandate isn’t likely to return soon.

New CDC data Thursday showed that the highly transmissible omicron variant that dominated in January has given way to its more contagious cousin, BA.2, which now accounts for 3 out of 4 cases across the country. And BA.2 is yielding to an even faster-spreading sister, BA.2.12.1, now 1 in 5 cases.

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