This winter’s U.S. COVID surge is fading fast, likely thanks to a ‘wall’ of immunity!
This winter’s COVID-19 surge in the United States appears to
be fading without having hit as hard as many had predicted.
“I believe the worst of the winter resurgence is
over,” says Dr. David Rubin, who has been tracking the pandemic at
Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s PolicyLab.
Nobody expected this winter’s surge to be as severe as the
previous two. However, both the flu and RSV returned early this fall.
Simultaneously, just as the holidays arrived in late 2022, the most contagious
omicron subvariant yet took off. And because most people pretended the pandemic
was over, all three viruses spread quickly.
As a result, there was widespread concern that hospitals
would become completely overwhelmed once more, with many people becoming
seriously ill and dying.
That, however, was not the case.
“This virus is still throwing 210-mile-per-hour curve balls
at us. And it sometimes appears to defy gravity or logic “says Michael
Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious
Disease Research and Policy.
“Everyone assumed there would be the widespread
transmission. Well, every time we think we have reason to believe we know what
it will do, it doesn’t “Osterholm claims.
The ‘worst’ of the COVID, flu, and RSV outbreaks may have
Infections, hospitalizations, and deaths did rise in the
United States following New Year’s. However, according to the most recent data
from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of people
catching the virus, being hospitalized, and dying from COVID quickly began to
fall again and has been dropping for weeks.
The fall flu and RSV waves are also fading. As a result,
many public health experts believe the worst is over.
“I’m glad to say that we didn’t have as many infections
as many thoughts as possible, which is very welcome news,” says Jennifer
Nuzzo, director of Brown University’s Pandemic Center.
Why is this the big question? Several factors could have
played a part.
One possibility is that people avoided crowds, wore masks,
and took other precautions more than public health experts anticipated.
However, this does not appear to be the case.
Could ‘viral interference’ be a factor?
Another possibility is “viral interference,” which
holds that when a person becomes infected with one virus, their immune response
may protect them from becoming infected with another. So perhaps RSV and flu
crowded out COVID in the same way that COVID crowded out those other viral infections
over the last two years.
“At this point, I believe that is more of a guess than
very solid evidence,” Nuzzo says. “However, if it’s true, it could
mean we’re more vulnerable to an increase in infections when those viruses
Nuzzo and other experts believe that the main reason the
COVID surge is waning is due to the immunity we’ve all developed from previous
infections and/or the COVID vaccinations many of us have received.
“We have a better immunity barrier now,” says Dr.
Carlos Del Rio, an infectious disease specialist at Emory University and
president of the Infectious Disease Society of America.
“Between vaccinations and prior infection, I think
we’re all in a different place now,” he says. “We are all somewhat
better protected, even if not completely. And the immunologic barrier is
Why COVID-19 remains a significant threat
However, none of this means that the country is no longer
concerned about COVID. COVID-19 continues to kill over 400 people every day.
This is far less than the thousands who died during the darkest days of the
previous two winter surges. However, it is still many more people who die from
the flu each day.
“Make no mistake: COVID-19 is still a significant
public health threat,” says Nuzzo. “That is still the case. And the
fact that we are still losing hundreds of people to this virus every day is
deeply concerning. So we shouldn’t have to accept the current level of disease
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health epidemiologist
William Hanage concurs.
“Without a doubt, society has progressed to the point
where the pandemic, if not over, is at least quiet for the majority of us. And
that’s fantastic. Long may it continue to be so “Hanage states. “Is
it true that there is no avoidable suffering? No. There is still avoidable pain
The majority of those who die are elderly, many of whom have
not received the most recent COVID-19 booster. Having them boosted could be
extremely beneficial. And the rest of us’ immunity may continue to deteriorate.
That means that many of the rest of us may need to get another booster at some
point to help reduce the threat posed by COVID.
According to public health experts, another flu wave could
hit this year, and there is still a chance that a new, more dangerous variant
of SARS-CoV-2 will emerge.
“This virus hasn’t finished with us yet,”