Good news, bad news: Covid-19 hospitalizations in US hit record low, but stomach flu on the rise

Hospitalizations for COVID-19 in the United States have at last hit their lowest levels since the pandemic began, down to 16,760 from an average of 24,595.

According to data provided by the Department of Health and Human Services and analyzed by NBC News, the new numbers represent a 32 percent drop in hospitalizations in the past two weeks. The previous low of 16,808 was set prior to the rise of the delta variant in June.

HHS began recording COVID hospitalizations in March 2020, and at its peak on Jan. 20, during the omicron surge, 159,000 people were hospitalized in a single day. On average, 63,000 people were hospitalized in America per day.

The number of COVID cases is also on the decline, falling 7 percent in the past two weeks to an average of 32,000 new cases per day.

NBC cautions that hospitalization numbers from the past few days could be adjusted as hospitals finalize their numbers, and notes that the BA.2 subvariant of omicron, which this week became the dominant variant in America, is causing a slow rise in cases in the Northeast.

While Canada’s CBC is reporting that the nation’s federal modeling is predicting a surge in COVID-19 cases in the next few weeks due to BA.2, many experts remain optimistic.

Dr. John Brooks, a medical epidemiologist and chief medical officer for the CDC’s COVID-19 response told NBC News in March that, while BA.2 infections may go up, we are unlikely to see an increase in severe disease or deaths.

“Our data suggests that it’s going to keep growing,” Brooks said. “But we have a few things working in our favor.”

Specifically, Brooks cites the natural immunity to COVID subvariants — including BA.2 —  many received when they were previously infected with the omicron variant.

“Prior infection with the original omicron appears to confer protection, not necessarily against infection, but definitely against severe disease and death,” Brooks said.

According to the Biden administration’s chief medical advisor, Dr. Anthony Fauci, we can also thank new antiviral treatments, unavailable during the omicron wave, but now keeping infected people from having to face the hospital.

“Those interventions … clearly work well to keep people out of the hospital,” Fauci said last week at a White House briefing.

As AW reported Saturday, a new antiviral drug from Merck, molnupiravir, is wiping out the COVID-19 virus in a little as two days in Australia.

Unfortunately, while the drop in COVID-19 hospitalizations comes as welcome news, NBC News also reports that the number of stomach flu cases are now on the rise.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), outbreaks of norovirus, the bug behind the stomach flu, have been climbing since early January, with weekly outbreaks rising to more than 50 reported cases, up from fewer than 10.

“From August 2021 through the beginning of last month, the CDC reported 448 norovirus outbreaks,” NBC News reported. “During the same time period the previous year, just 78 were reported.

While there is nothing to suggest the uptick in norovirus outbreaks is in any way tied to omicron, the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions may be contributing to the spread of the highly-contagious norovirus.

Billions of microscopic norovirus particles are easily spread across surfaces and into food and water, and it takes very little exposure to make a person miserable with diarrhea and vomiting.

“The concentration of virus in stool samples is pretty high, so it doesn’t take much microscopic contamination to infect people,” said Dr. Robert Atmar, a professor o medicine and infectious disease expert at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

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