Aug 21, 2023 - Health

COVID-19 hospitalization rates on rise in California

Data: CDC; Chart: Axios Visuals

COVID-19 hospitalization rates across California rose 8% between June and July amid signs of a late summer wave sweeping the country.

Why it matters: 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.

Reality check: In both percentage change and raw terms, nationwide hospitalizations remain far below their pandemic-era peak.

  • They're down 82% year over year, while the CDC reports 10,320 overall hospital admissions in the week that ended Aug. 5, compared to more than 150,000 in one week in January 2022.

Zoom in: In San Francisco, there were 107 COVID-19 hospitalizations in the week through Aug. 5, according to the CDC, representing a 20% increase from the week before.

  • Meanwhile, COVID-19 test positivity rates are rising, according to city data. The seven-day rolling average test positivity rate was 7.8% as of Aug. 10, compared to 3.8% on July 3, per the San Francisco Department of Public Health.
  • San Francisco's Oceanside wastewater treatment plant also saw a 209% increase in COVID-19 matter in local sewage between July 9 and Aug. 9, the San Francisco Standard reports.

Zoom out: The average COVID-19 hospitalization rate nationwide rose about 17% between June and July, per the latest CDC data.

  • A new variant, EG.5, is now the dominant form in the U.S., according to CDC estimates — though it's unclear if it's directly responsible for the rising numbers.

Be smart: Hospitalizations aren't a perfect metric.

  • For example, because older people are more vulnerable to severe COVID, hospitalization rates are likely to be higher in states or communities with older populations. Vaccination rates can be a factor too.

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.

What to watch: A newly updated booster is due out this fall. While it wasn't specifically designed with EG.5 in mind, it will likely offer at least some protection, experts told NBC News.

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