COVID-19 December 2023 Newsletter

By: Matt McGovern, MPH, CHES, LINCS COVID-19 Epidemiologist/Data Manager

Welcome to the respiratory and holiday season, where there is typically a rise in COVID-19, influenza (flu), and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) activity and severity (i.e. hospitalizations). According to the CDC, this “respiratory disease season will likely result in a similar number of hospitalizations as last season. While this number could be somewhat higher or lower than last season, the United States most likely will see greater hospitalizations than in seasons before the pandemic.” The CDC publishes respiratory season outlooks based on observed disease activity over the past month, as well as COVID-19 and Influenza forecasts, and previous posted data for all three diseases. For comparison purposes (graph seen below), last respiratory season in the U.S. looked like this: RSV hospitalizations peaked first shortly before Thanksgiving, followed by flu hospitalizations shortly after Thanksgiving, and COVID-19 hospitalizations shortly after New Years holidays. Note: This year’s data in the graph was updated as of early November.

In reference to current COVID-19 trends in New Jersey, hospital admissions have remained in the low level of activity for several weeks in all counties. It is important to note that hospitalizations usually lag cases by approximately 3-4 weeks. Additionally, E.D. visits due to COVID-19 have remained stagnant (not showing significant upward or downward movement) in NJ at 1% as of the week ending 11/18. Percent positivity (percentage of tests with positive results out of all the tests administered) of COVID-19 tests in NJ rose to 6.3% (+0.5% compared to the week prior) as of the week ending 11/18. Deaths in NJ remained at 2.2% as of the week ending 11/18. The other indicator to monitor is wastewater surveillance levels of SARS-CoV-2 concentration, which captures the presence of the virus shed by people with and without symptoms. Wastewater surveillance is an early indicator to assess whether COVID-19 is increasing or decreasing in a community. Here is an infographic showing the process of wastewater surveillance: https://www.cdc.gov/nwss/pdf/Wastewater-COVID-infographic-h.pdf . As of 11/25, the state of New Jersey is recorded as having a high level of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater.

It is expected that most of these COVID-19 indicators will increase as we approach additional holidays during the month of December. The best protection against COVID-19 infection and severity is as follows: wearing a well fitted mask (surgical masks, KN95 and N95 masks) in crowded spaces, ventilation (imperative for holiday gatherings, workplaces, schools, etc.), and updated 2023-2024 COVID-19 vaccinations (1 dose of the Pfizer, Moderna, or Novavax vaccines). The updated COVID-19 vaccines target the currently circulating XBB lineage of the Omicron variant and its subvariants and renew protection for those with waning immunity from a previous vaccination or infection.

Lastly, there are vaccines available to protect you from the flu and RSV as well. The flu vaccine gets updated annually based on forecasts predicting which strains will be predominant for that upcoming flu season. It is most effective for 4 months post-vaccine. For more information on the seasonal flu vaccine, please visit: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/flushot.htm . This Fall, the FDA approved the first RSV vaccines for adults aged 60 and older, and infants and young children. For more information on the RSV vaccine, please visit: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/rsv/index.html .

To learn more about COVID-19 testing and vaccinations, please see below for further resources:

I can be reached at mmcgovern@mcpik.org