COVID, Flu, and RSV: What to Know Right Now

COVID, Flu, and RSV: What to Know Right Now
18.12.2023

It’s not necessarily a sign that another tripledemic is looming, but post-Thanksgiving rates of COVID-19 and influenza continue to rise nationwide, the latest federal statistics show. 

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) cases have leveled off at higher levels, while hospitalizations due to severe cases of COVID jumped nearly 18%, reaching 22,513 admissions during the week after Thanksgiving, new CDC data shows. Emergency room visits, positive test rates, and weekly deaths related to COVID all rose as well.

“The U.S. is experiencing elevated RSV activity, particularly among young children,” the CDC warned in its latest weekly update. “COVID-19 activity has continued to increase, especially in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic regions. Influenza activity continues to increase in most of the country with the southeast and south-central areas of the country reporting the highest levels of activity.”

It’s not unusual for respiratory illnesses to increase around the holidays, when people travel and get together, all as colder weather leads to spending more time indoors. COVID hospitalizations have jumped by thousands in the weeks after Thanksgiving every year of the pandemic. 

Weekly flu hospitalizations reached 5,700 for the 7 days ending Dec. 2, up from about 3,300 two weeks prior. RSV cases reported to the CDC remain around 10,000 for the third straight week, although that is less than half the number of cases seen during a record-setting November peak last year.

“Really, this is what we had anticipated would happen,” Marcus Plescia, MD, MPH, chief medical officer for the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, told The Washington Post. “We are not seeing or hearing any reports of hospitals running into capacity issues like we were last year, but we don’t feel we are out of the woods yet.”

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But health officials are concerned about low vaccination rates, and are urging people to get vaccines to prevent severe illness rather than risk needing to go to the emergency room or be admitted to the hospital. The CDC recommends that people ages 6 months and older get flu and COVID vaccines now, so antibodies have time to build up ahead of Christmas gatherings. RSV vaccines are also available for some infants and young children, and for older people, too. 

A federal program offers free at-home COVID tests delivered by mail to a person’s home to have on hand if symptoms arise. Another new federal program called Test to Treat offers at-home COVID and flu tests, as well as free telehealth visits and treatment for people who test positive. The Test to Treat program is open to those who are uninsured, receive care through Indian Health Services, and for people who use insurance from Medicare, Medicaid, or Veterans Affairs.

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