This winter's U.S. COVID surge is fading fast, likely thanks to a 'wall' of immunity

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.

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"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 passed.

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.

Read: Vaccines or villains? Government admits multiple side-effects of COVID-19 jabs in RTI reply

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 aren't present."

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.

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"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 real."

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.

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"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 and death."

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 and death."

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.

Read: NY Supreme Court Justice Strikes Down State's COVID Vaccine Mandate for Health Workers

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," Osterholm claims.

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