Covid infections in the US have nearly doubled in the past month amid the rise of two highly mutated variants, official data suggests.
The US test positivity rate (the proportion of swabs that come back positive) has skyrocketed from one in 15 in the week ending July 15 to one in eight on August 12, according to the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). data.
It means test positivity is at its highest level in over a year. In several states, including Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana, one in six Covid swabs have tested positive in the most recent week.
With ordinary Americans no longer testing en masse as they did earlier in the pandemic (only 40,000 swabs are reported to the CDC each week), it has become more difficult to catch new outbreaks early.
But all the metrics indicate that infections are rising rapidly. Along with the rise in positivity, hospitalization rates for Covid patients have also risen for five consecutive weeks, though they remain near record lows.
The graph above shows the percentage of positive Covid cases (tan line) and the weekly number of new Covid hospitalizations (blue bars).
Americans wear face masks as they line up to vote in the 2020 presidential election. Some universities and businesses are reinstating mask requirements as Covid cases rise in the US.
The rise in cases is believed to be due to several factors, including the emergence of two highly transmissible variants, waning immunity to vaccines, and the start of the school year as more people gather in large groups and mingle, doctors told DailyMail.com.
Test positivity rates are reported to CDC by the National Respiratory and Enteric Virus Surveillance System (NREVSS), which receives the reported number of weekly tests from laboratories that have chosen to submit their data to the surveillance system.
Dr Thomas Moore, a medical specialist in infectious diseases, told DailyMail.com that while the United States is seeing an increase in cases, they are not as serious as previous variants.
The data shows that positivity shot up from 6.7 percent in the week ending July 15 to 12.2 percent in the week ending August 12.
The two new variants, EG.5, or Eris, and BA.X, or Pirola, have been detected in several countries around the world and recently in the United States.
These variants are highly mutated and are thought to be better at preventing the vaccine and natural immunity from causing infection.
Experts estimate that Eris could account for up to half of Covid infections, and two cases of Pirola were recently detected last week in Michigan and on Tuesday in Virginia.
Dr. Rajendram Rajnarayanan, from the New York Institute of Technology campus in Jonesboro, Arkansas, told DailyMail.Com that the clinical severity and symptoms of the variants remain largely unknown as the US is only performing selective tests for variants in a small sample of positive tests at hospitals or airports.
But while more and more people are contracting Covid and employers may have to deal with the inconvenience of employees missing work, or students having to make up school work, Eris and Pirola are not expected to cause a deadly wave like in the past.
The graph above shows the variants of Covid in the United States. Highlights how EG.5, an emerging variant, has grown rapidly across the country
The graph above shows the percentage of positive Covid cases (tan line) and the weekly number of Covid deaths (blue bars).
Dr. Thomas Moore, an infectious disease doctor in Wichita, Kansas, told DailyMail.com that while the United States is seeing a rise in cases, “they’re not as severe as previous variants,” putting pressure on hospitals. and health care systems.
The new strains are “absolutely” spreading faster due to the fact that “variants arise because they are more transmissible” and have evolved to be more contagious, Dr. Moore explained.
However, he agrees with most experts that there are no signs that the strains are more serious or dangerous.
He said the symptoms of the strains could be similar to those of the common cold or flu, but also warned that while dying from the common cold or flu is rare, Covid still has the potential to be deadly.
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Former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said he was concerned about rising Covid cases, but there was no evidence that variants are deadlier than earlier strains and he doesn’t think the variants are more likely. of causing serious infections or more deaths.
“Certainly at this time, it doesn’t appear to be more pathogenic, so it doesn’t appear to be more dangerous (than other variants),” Dr. Gottlieb said.
Furthermore, health experts previously told DailyMail.com that the emergence of variants is “not surprising” and said it was too early to panic.
They asserted that despite the increased transmissibility, the new variants were unlikely to reverse years of immunity gained during the more than three years of the pandemic.
From July 15 to August 12, hospitalizations increased from 7,175 to 12,613, although they are still three times lower than last year.
Additionally, Dr. Marc Elieson, chief medical officer at Baylor Scott and White Health in Texas, said earlier this week that his colleagues are caring for Covid patients with less severe illness than at any time during the pandemic.
“What viruses and other organisms do over time is they become more contagious but have less power to kill and harm people,” he said. FOX44.
Despite the increase in cases and hospitalizations, weekly deaths have decreased. In the week ending July 15, there were 484 deaths, compared with 251 deaths in the week ending August 12.
Additionally, CDC data shows that only one percent of intensive care unit beds are occupied by Covid-19 patients and approximately 1.5 percent of all hospital beds are also occupied by patients. from covid.
This could be because the variants do not cause more severe cases and more than 95 percent of Americans have some level of antibodies to Covid-19 due to vaccinations, booster shots, and previous infections, which most experts believe. which is enough to keep future infections cold. – or flu-like symptoms.
The map above shows the percentage positivity rate in each state over the past week. In several states, including Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana, one in six Covid swabs have tested positive in the most recent week.
While experts say the increasing transmissibility is not cause for alarm yet, their assurances have not stopped mitigation efforts and experts from recommending that the public start wearing masks again.
A university in Atlanta became the first institution to require masks on students and staff just days before classes began.
The new mandate will require students and staff to wear masks in hallways and conference rooms for at least two weeks amid the recent surge.
In addition, government physicians and public health officials in Seattle have called for a return to requiring face coverings in health care settings.
Most recently, Lionsgate, a movie studio in Santa Monica, California, reintroduced a mask requirement in its offices after several employees tested positive for Covid-19. The studio also encouraged its employees to test themselves before going to work. Lionsgate said the rules for its nearly 5,000 employees would be in place “until further notice.”