COVID-19 April 2024 Newsletter

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

Welcome to March! We are heading toward the end of the fall and winter virus season. As a result, the CDC is changing guidance pertaining to COVID-19 due to recent findings that showed: “Weekly hospital admissions for COVID-19 have decreased by more than 75% and deaths by more than 90% compared to January 2022. Importantly, these decreases have continued through a full respiratory virus season, despite levels of viral activity similar to prior years. Almost 98% of people in the United States have antibodies against COVID-19 because of prior vaccination, infection or both. We also have effective and widely available vaccines and treatments that work, but more than 95% of people hospitalized with COVID-19 this last season were not up to date on COVID-19 vaccines and most had not received antiviral treatment.” Thus, it has been determined by the CDC that COVID-19 is no longer perceived to be a health emergency, but rather an important health threat. This updated guidance includes strategies to protect people at the highest risk of getting seriously ill and provides recommendations for people with common viral respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19, flu, and RSV. Vaccination is still emphasized as a protective factor against COVID-19, flu, and RSV and for those that still get infected with those viruses, they are better protected from severe consequences (i.e., hospitalization, ICU admission, and death). If you do get sick from COVID-19, flu, and RSV it is recommended to stay at home as much as possible until at least 24 hours after 1) your symptoms are getting better overall, and 2) you have not had a fever (and not using fever-reducing medication). Once you get past this point, you can resume normal activities and use added prevention strategies over the next 5 days, such as taking more steps for cleaner air, improving your hygiene strategies, wearing a well-fitting mask, keeping a distance from others, and/or getting tested for respiratory viruses.

According to the New Jersey Department of Health’s most recent COVID-19 and Respiratory Illness Activity Report, hospital admissions have remained in the low level of activity for several weeks for all but two counties (Monmouth and Ocean are in the medium level due to their new hospital admissions per 100,000 population being listed at 10.0 per 100,000). Note: Hospitalizations lag cases by approximately 3-4 weeks. Additionally, E.D. visits slightly declined from 1.4% on 2/17/24 to 1.2% on 2/24/24. Deaths in NJ decreased from 2.7% on 2/17 to 2.1% on 2/24. 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. As of 2/29, 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 decrease over the next few weeks until we get to a few holidays later in the month, which will more than likely provide a spike in COVID-19 activity (cases, hospitalizations, ICU admissions, and deaths). As a reminder, 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 including JN.1 and renew protection for those with waning immunity from a previous vaccination or infection. Lastly, the CDC has updated a COVID-19 vaccination guidance for those 65 years and older. It states that “all people ages 65 & older should receive 1 additional dose of any updated (2023 – 2024 formula) COVID-19 vaccine (i.e., Moderna, Novavax, Pfizer-BioNTech).”

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

I can be reached at mmcgovern@mcpik.org