As the festive season kicks into high gear, and millions of Americans prepare to travel for the holidays, a concerning surge in COVID levels has been reported, reaching the highest since last December. According to wastewater data analysis from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the rise is particularly pronounced in several regions, pointing to potential challenges ahead.

Regional Hotspots

Wastewater data analysis by the CDC highlights 23 states with “very high” levels of COVID-19, primarily concentrated in the Northeast, Midwest, and upper Great Plains. These include Arkansas, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

An additional 12 states are categorized as having “high” levels of COVID-19, encompassing Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Kansas, Nevada, New York, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Virginia.

The Midwest, which has recently been a hotspot for COVID-19, has witnessed a significant increase in viral activity, with wastewater data indicating a level of 10.55 in the week ending December 9. This surpasses the Northeast (9.45), South (7.26), and West (5.24). According to the CDC, the national level currently stands at 8.2, marking a substantial increase from the early summer levels of around 1.

JN.1 Strain and Concerns

The surge in Covid cases is compounded by the rapid spread of the JN.1 strain, an offshoot of the highly mutated “Pirola” (BA.2.86) omicron variant. Although COVID-related emergency department visits and deaths remain low, the increasing viral levels detected in wastewater are early indicators. An infectious disease expert, Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, likens rising wastewater viral levels to a “canary in the coal mine,” expressing concern about potential hospitalizations around Christmastime.

The World Health Organization (WHO) designated JN.1 as a “variant of interest,” emphasizing its fast-growing global prevalence, especially in BA.2.86 cases. The CDC previously warned that JN.1 is the “fastest-growing variant” in the U.S., comprising 15% to 29% of Covid cases. This resurgence mirrors Covid levels seen last winter after a lull during the summer months.

Despite new booster shots becoming available in October, reluctance among Americans to receive the updated boosters persists. While approximately 81.4% of Americans have received at least one vaccine dose, only 17% have opted for the updated bivalent booster shot.

Skepticism Among The People

The concerning rise in Covid cases aligns with the anticipated holiday travel rush. AAA predicts that around 115 million Americans will travel over Christmas and New Year’s, marking a 2.2% increase from 2022. 

With 90% of these travelers expected to hit the road, 7.51 million taking flights, and 4.05 million using alternative transportation, the surge in travel raises questions about potential ramifications for the already escalating COVID levels.

However, in the YouTube comments, the people aren’t convinced that this is a real threat: “Lots of talk about levels being elevated, so why no talk about the current mortality rate of this strain we’re “grappling” with? Oh right, I just answered my own question, because there isn’t any, lol.”

Another commenter pointed out: “I got covid a couple of weeks ago. I was shaky for a couple of hours and I had a sore throat for 3-4 days. Took a couple of aspirins every 4 hours not a big deal for me..kinda like a virus”

Most don’t see it as dangerous: “Well, if its like the last few years, it’s mainly spreading in the vaccinated people.  As most people are vaccinated.”

“Cough,cough,sneeze,sneeze …..Now it has a 99.9999999% survivability rate.” another commenter jokingly added.

Some do say that it can still be dangerous: “I have covid right now and I gave it to my child who has an auto immune disease. Covid is not fun, he can’t walk today :(“

Where do you stand?

A Delicate Balancing Act

As Americans embark on holiday travels, the balance between festive celebrations and the ongoing pandemic presents a significant challenge. The surge in COVID levels, coupled with the rapid spread of the JN.1 strain, shows the importance of adherence to public health measures. 

This should serve as a stark reminder that the fight against COVID continues, and responsible behavior during the holidays is crucial to curbing the spread and protecting public health. Despite all this, most aren’t convinced that this poses an actual threat. How do you feel about it?

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