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COVID-19 Roundup: Another COVID-19 Variant, Respiratory Illnesses Rise this Month

December 11, 2023

COVID-19 hospitalizations are rising to levels last seen during March 2023, and a new Omicron variant has gained traction heading into the winter holidays.

The latest data from the federal government confirm an expected rise in respiratory illnesses, as public health leaders urge everyone to take the proper precautions.

“We are seeing more respiratory illnesses and pneumonias in the United States and around the world, but right now we’re not seeing anything new or unfamiliar in terms of virus or sickness,” Mandy Cohen, CDC director said in a statement.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • A new COVID variant:  Omicron subvariant JN.1 is responsible for nearly 22 percent of U.S. cases and is gaining ground on HV.1 as the nation’s dominant variant.
    • With its rapid growth, JN.1 appears to be more transmissible or better at evading our immune systems. There is no evidence that it provides a greater public health risk than other variants.
  • By the numbers:  COVID-19 hospital admissions (+17.6%) and deaths (+25%) both increased in the CDC’s latest weekly report. Weekly hospital admissions (22,513) are still below year-ago levels (33,901), but continue to rise.
    • In Pennsylvania, respiratory illnesses are responsible for 4 percent of emergency department visits, including 2.1 percent for COVID-19 and 1 percent for respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and flu, respectively.
  • Different directions:  While RSV hospitalizations have leveled off after months of growth, flu continues to rise in most regions of the country, with the southeast and south-central areas seeing the most activity.
  • What you can do:  With respiratory illnesses increasing, you can stay healthy by getting vaccinated for COVID-19 and RSV if you are eligible. You also should:
    • Stay home when sick.
    • Get tested if you are experiencing symptoms.
    • Use proper hand hygiene.
    • Improve ventilation when gathering.
  • The bottom line:  “COVID-19 activity is likely to increase over the next month,” the CDC noted in its latest variant alert. “An updated COVID-19 vaccine can help keep you protected against JN.1 and other variants. It’s a great time to get that vaccine if you haven’t received one this fall.”

HAP encourages everyone to take proper precautions against COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses ahead of the winter holidays. Getting vaccinated, staying home when sick, and other public health precautions can help you and your loved ones stay healthy this winter.

Additional information about respiratory illnesses is available online.