According to recent CDC data, COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to increase, with a roughly 9% increase nationwide for the week ending Sept. 2. To help protect against infection, health experts recommend people take precautions, including getting an updated COVID-19 vaccine when possible.
For the week ending Sept. 2, there were 18,871 new COVID-19 hospitalizations nationwide, an 8.7% increase from the week before. Although this rise marks another week of continued increases in hospitalizations, this increase was smaller than those reported in previous weeks.
Overall, 25 states and the District of Columbia had either moderate or substantial increases in COVID-19 hospitalizations during the week ending Sept. 2 — a decrease from 35 states the week before. In general, more states saw their hospitalization rates remain largely stable.
According to health experts, while it is important to pay attention to the current increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations, the numbers are still well below pandemic highs.
Justin Lessler, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina's Gillings School of Global Public Health, noted that increases in COVID-19 cases are likely to be expected at this time of year going forward.
"Maybe the message should be less, 'It's a surge,' and more, 'Well, the yearly epidemic is starting, and in some places it's starting earlier than we thought,'" Lessler said.
As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, health experts recommend taking precautions to protect yourself against infection, especially if you or someone you know is at high risk of severe illness.
"Pretty much my message is: If you're in a mass gathering, you're likely to come in contact with someone who has covid right now in our area," Scott Lockard, health director for the Kentucky River District Health Department. "So protect yourself accordingly."
According to Lockard, he recommends that people stay home when they're sick and test for COVID-19 when they're experiencing symptoms. And while there's a "great reluctance" to mask again, Lockard noted that they do work at protecting people from illness.
"People 65-plus and people who are immunocompromised should strongly consider masking during flu, RSV, COVID season while in indoor public spaces," said Céline Gounder, editor-at-large for public health at KFF Health News. "And for everyone else — it all depends on what their risk tolerance is."
Health experts have also encouraged eligible individuals to get a shot of an updated COVID-19 vaccine. FDA last week approved two new COVID-19 vaccines targeting the XBB.1.5 omicron subvariant from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech. Another updated vaccine from Novavax is expected to be approved in the coming weeks.
CDC has recommended that all Americans ages 6 months and older receive at least one dose of the newest COVID-19 vaccine. Children ages 6 months through 4 years who have already been vaccinated may receive one or two doses of the new vaccines, with the timing and number of doses depending on the previous vaccine they received. Individuals ages 5 and older may receive one dose at least two months after their last COVID-19 vaccine.
According to John Moore, an immunology expert at Weill Cornell Medical College, if you're in a high-risk group and either haven't been vaccinated or been sick with COVID-19 within the past two months, you may want to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
If you're planning to travel this holiday season, it may make more sense to wait to get your shot until late October or November in order to maximize the time period in which protection is strongest, Moore added.
Health experts have also said that it's likely fine to get both a COVID-19 vaccine and a flu vaccine at the same time. According to Jeremy Faust, an emergency physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital, getting your flu shot and COVID-19 shot at the same time "is safe, albeit with the possibility of somewhat higher rates of non-dangerous side effects" like body aches, fever, or fatigue.
Overall, "I'm less worried than I was last year, and I was less worried last year than I was the year before," said Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at Brown University School of Public Health. "But I'm aware, and I’m looking and trying to make sure nothing changes." (Branswell, STAT, 9/10; Johnson, Washington Post, 9/13; Mandavilli, New York Times, CDC COVID-19 Data Tracker, accessed 9/15)
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