The official case rate decreased slightly this week in Easthampton and Hampshire County. The case rate has been hovering in the same range for a month, even though we know there have been changes in actual infections during this time (think about the people you know who are infected, and if they're counted in the official rates!). The official case rate is certainly an underreport, however, the data from wastewater indicates that infections are continuing to increase in Hampshire County. I had hoped we were seeing a plateau or a peak in the wastewater, but it sure doesn't look like it this week.
It's a bit hard to tell what's happening with local COVID-19 hospitalizations. By some metrics, hospitalizations decreased last week, but the percentage of hospital beds occupied by patients with COVID-19 has increased to 5.8%. At this point, health care capacity in our area is not heavily burdened. That's great news! The rest of the United States isn't having the same experience, though. Over 80% of counties in the US are in the CDC's high country transmission category, indicating that more than 10-15% of hospital beds are occupied by COVID-19 patients and more than 10-20 new COVID-19 admissions are occurring in the county each day.
I included a visual of cases, percent positivity, hospitalizations, and deaths in the US and in Massachusetts this week. It's clear that while cases are up and down, hospitalizations have increased and deaths have increased slightly, more-so in the US in general than in MA, probably because of high vaccination and booster rates in MA. I dug into US hospitalizations by age group a bit, and continue to be disappointed in the trend in pediatric hospitalizations. The rate of hospitalization for children under age 18 is now high as it was during the delta surge last fall. I want to be clear that the hospitalization rate for children is far lower than older age groups - the scale on the y-axis is orders of magnitude different, as you can tell by looking at where the yellow pediatric hospitalization rate falls on the graph on the right side of the visual. But hospitalizations are increasing, and this is an under-vaccinated age group throughout the country and in our local community. If more children are fully vaccinated, the rate of hospitalizations among children will decrease.
The Biden administration continues to plan for a fall omicron-specific booster that includes a formula that targets BA.4 and BA.5. Pfizer and Moderna have indicated that they are prepared to deliver the millions of doses needed in September. Officials are still finalizing who will be eligible. It will almost certainly be available for all adults over age 18, and most likely for children, although it's unclear if that will include children over age 12, or age 16 - or even the youngest ages. The advice from experts is still to proceed now with a booster shot if you are eligible and haven't received it yet. There will likely be a minimum amount of required time between booster doses but officials are stressing that getting boosted now will not eliminate your chance to get the omicron-specific booster sometime this fall. Vaccine coverage remains low among children under 4 years old and among those 16-29 years old. While these age groups are at low risk of severe disease in general, their risk of mild or asymptomatic infection is lower if they are fully vaccinated. A reduction in severe disease is clearly an important target of the vaccines, but even mild infections can be unpleasant and disruptive, and long-COVID is not well understood and can occur even after a mild infection. In other words - today is a great day to make sure you're up-to-date on your COVID-19 vaccine.
We're getting used to "living with" COVID-19, and for many who have mild infections, that means working through their home isolation. This has been in the news lately after President Biden told Americans that he was able to keep working while isolating. Presidents aside, health care providers are still urging folks who are infected to take rest and recovery seriously during isolation and beyond. Even those who are vaccinated and boosted and low-risk are regularly experiencing symptoms that last 2-4 weeks. The healing trajectory is still quite unpredictable, and may include a "rebound" of symptoms with or without taking Paxlovid. To the extent that you can (and I know this is a privilege), health care providers are reminding us to not push COVID-19 recovery too hard. Common sense is a good metric here - if you're still feeling run-down and tired, resting - like, actual resting, not working from home in a partially-reclined position) would be a good idea. It can only help your recovery and may reduce your risk of symptoms lingering beyond 4 weeks. And if you are out and about between days 5 and 10, and even beyond if you're continuing to test positive on home rapid tests, don't forget to wear a high-quality well-fitting mask to protect your community! There are folks in our community who are high-risk and who will really appreciate your continued efforts.
Megan W. Harvey, PhD (she/her)