Why the XBB.1.5 COVID variant is spreading across the US so quickly
Why are we still seeing new COVID-19 variants like XBB.1.5? Here’s what we know.
Just the FAQs, USA TODAY
After spending the last months of 2022 scrambling to care for an influx of patients due to the “tripledemic” of COVID-19, respiratory syncytial virus and the flu, hospitals are finally able to take a breather.
Still, experts say the public health threat of COVID-19 and the flu are far from over.
COVID-19 cases, while nowhere near the rates seen in previous surges, have started trending upward again, according to Dr. Rick Hong, acting director of the Delaware Division of Public Health. At the same time, Hong said infections of RSV and the flu have “plateaued.”
It’s a far cry from a few months ago when the strain on hospitals – especially in pediatric wings – was so severe that the Delaware Healthcare Association asked any nurses with inpatient pediatric experience to help out. Many of the nurses who stepped up have stayed on to help at hospitals in at least some capacity.
“It’s been a really tough couple of years for healthcare providers at the bedside; a lot of stress, a lot of illness,” said Delaware Healthcare Association Interim President Megan McNamara Williams.
Why did so many people get sick?
Typically, the flu and RSV don’t surge until late January and early February, Williams said. But with more people forgoing precautions like masking and social distancing in the fall, Williams said, both COVID-19 and other illnesses had the chance to spread.
And while people are still getting sick now, the illness tends to be less severe. Milder cases of COVID-19 and the flu also mean fewer cases reported, as many people don’t end up in the hospital.
The results of at-home COVID-19 testing kits also aren’t counted by the state.
What do COVID-19, other viruses look like right now in Delaware?
Last week, about 150 people were hospitalized across the state for COVID-19, Williams said. At this same time last year, the number of people hospitalized was almost five times higher.
Williams and Hong said that the lower rates of sickness have a lot to do with the effectiveness of vaccines, especially the new bivalent COVID-19 booster shot. It will likely still be helpful even in the face of evolving variants of the virus.
Hong added that there is a potential for a second round of the flu in the coming months, as the season can sometimes have multiple peaks. He said this makes it all the more important for people to get their flu shot if they haven’t already.
“We still have to be very vigilant,” Hong said.
In addition to getting vaccinated against the flu and COVID-19, Delawareans should stay home and take a test if they’re feeling sick. Masking can also help prevent the spread of illnesses, and Hong emphasized that no one should feel discriminated against for wearing one in public.
Want more information?
For more information about the flu and COVID-19 as well as where to get vaccines and booster doses, visit coronavirus.delaware.gov.
Send story tips or ideas to Hannah Edelman at email@example.com. For more reporting, follow them on Twitter at @h_edelman.