Aug 23, 2023 - Health

COVID hospitalizations on the rise in Richmond

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

COVID-19 hospitalization rates have risen 77% in Virginia so far this month amid signs of a late summer wave sweeping the country.

Why it matters: Simply put, our guard is down.

  • Many of us put COVID in our rearview mirrors, leaving us both mentally and practically ill-prepared for another wave.
  • Experts warn the U.S. is lacking critical tools to help manage future waves, Axios' Sabrina Moreno recently reported.

By the numbers: COVID diagnoses in Virginia emergency rooms have risen every week since the end of June, per data released by the Virginia Department of Health on Tuesday.

Of note: The total number of diagnoses and hospitalizations remains low across the state, accounting for just 1.6% of emergency room visits.

  • In the Richmond area, hospitals reported 3.7 new COVID-19 patients per 100,000 residents, per the most recent CDC data.
  • That leaves us well below the 10 cases per 100,0000 residents threshold for what the CDC defines as moderate spread.

Be smart: With so little testing happening these days compared to the height of the pandemic, hospitalization rates are now one of the best proxies for estimating broader viral spread.

Yes, but: Hospitalizations aren't a perfect metric.

  • Because older people are more vulnerable to severe COVID, for example, hospitalization rates are likely to be higher in states or communities with older populations. Vaccination rates can be a factor too.
  • Hospitalization rates are also a lagging indicator — it takes time for infected people to become sick and more time still for them to become sick enough to require hospitalization.

What we're watching: This uptick comes at a less-than-ideal time with regard to booster availability.

  • A newly updated booster is due out this fall. While it wasn't specifically designed with the new variant EG.5 in mind, it will likely offer at least some protection, experts told NBC News.
  • Those behind on their shots need to decide whether it makes sense to wait for the updated booster or to beef up their protection now in the face of this uptick.

The bottom line: There's no sign we're headed for anything like the waves of the peak pandemic era. But it's still an alarming trend and a reminder that COVID will remain a public health concern for the foreseeable future.

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