After two months of consistent decline in Covid-19 case rates since January’s ‘pandemic peak’, U.S. case rates are slowly climbing again. Health experts predict that this trend will continue and produce a summer surge. It’s unlikely that this surge will reach January heights, but it’s clear that coronavirus isn’t gone or over yet. What can seniors and caregivers in San Diego look forward to this summer?
The building wave of Covid-19 cases in California is the product of a few trends converging at once. In March 2022, as case numbers continued to drop all over the country, many cities, states, and businesses dropped their Covid safety requirements. People returned to offices and schools, began to travel, fly maskless, and eat indoors. At the same time, new vaccinations tapered off, and the four-to-six-month boost in antibodies offered by the first booster shot in fall 2021 began to fade. As we began to relax and think normal was imminent, a new Omicron variant BA.2 prompted a new surge in Europe and East Asia.
Throughout the pandemic, U.S. health officials have watched Covid rates in Europe and the U.K., knowing that U.S. rates would typically follow suit several weeks later. Sure enough, new case rates are ticking up across the country. According to US Today, “The U.S. tallied a daily average of about 60,220 new COVID-19 cases over the seven days that ended May 9, USAFacts reports, and a daily average of 405 deaths in that same time frame. In contrast, the averages for one week earlier were 56,252 cases and 392 deaths per day…. The country saw approximately 74,700 cases on average as of May 9, compared with about 60,500 a week earlier.” In San Diego County, the seven-day average of new cases on April 13 was 126; on May 10, it was 743. The trend is clear.
According to Medscape.com on May 9, “Coronavirus-related hospital admissions and deaths in the U.S. are projected to increase over the next four weeks, according to a national forecast used by the CDC…. [This projection is based on] several weeks of steady increases in infections across the country. More than 67,000 new cases are being reported daily, according to the data tracker from The New York Times, marking a 59% increase in the past two weeks.”
Why is this happening? This increase is a predictable result of a few factors.
- Most public safety restrictions were loosened or dropped in March and April because the numbers had dropped so low. Many people took this to mean they could party like it was 2019, or at least drop the basic precautions.
- Spring and summer feature many public and private events with groups of people: proms, graduations, weddings, family vacations, summer travel and all the celebrations postponed because of Covid-19.
- As of April 2022, the Omicron BA.2 variant accounted for 80 percent of new cases, and is considered the most transmissible coronavirus variant so far. Fortunately, while BA.2 is causing more infections, it doesn’t seem to cause more severe infections. Hospitalizations, ICU admissions and deaths are not matching that increase.
- The real numbers are likely higher than the official numbers because people are taking home tests, whose results aren’t reported. Also, many states have stopped reporting new cases daily, and are only updating a couple of times a week. True infection rates could be much higher than what doctors are using to make their forecasts. If people are using local case rates to manage their risk, as the CDC advises, then they may be more relaxed about safety than they should be.
What does this mean for seniors? The best way for seniors and anyone providing or receiving in home care in San Diego to stay safe is to continue to wear a mask when indoors, when in large groups, and when traveling. Anyone who is eligible for the second booster shot should get it as soon as they are eligible to boost their antibody levels. If your state or county numbers aren’t kept current, evaluate your risk with the CDC’s “community level” metric that tracks COVID-19 hospital admissions and the average percentage of hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients along with reported cases. Covid-19 hasn’t reached endemic status yet, and more variants and more surges are inevitable, so these strategies will be useful for a while.