The majority of Americans now think of COVID-19 more like a flu, as the country has reopened and most of us have resumed with normal, pre-pandemic daily activities. That doesn’t mean that we are now done with the pandemic, because the number of COVID-19 cases has been on the rise in recent weeks in almost all parts of the country. Spending more time indoors and the holidays are the main reasons why the number of cases is going up in the winter.
Experts, however, don’t expect America to face yet another COVID-19 wave similar to last year’s and the year before due to the fact that the majority of people are considered immune to the virus. Health experts are confident that the country won’t see a significant influx of cases during the upcoming months, and most of those infected are expected to develop mild, flu-like symptoms, meaning that hospitalizations due to COVID-19 should remain low.
Lockdowns, wearing face masks, and other strict pandemic measures have been part of our lives for nearly two years. Although the measures differed from state to state, everyone was affected in some way during the pandemic. Healthy children and young people, who are considered a low-risk group, had to spend months home due to school closures, and we are now seeing the negative effects of school closures, lockdowns, and quarantines.
America might avoid the winter Covid-19 wave in the coming months, but the country is now facing a “Tripledemic”, a combination of RSV, Covid, and flu. In recent weeks, a growing number of people have been infected with one of these viruses, and hospitals are becoming overwhelmed with patients. Unlike previous years, the number of children infected with flu is much higher, and doctors agree that the pandemic is to blame for this trend. Dozens of health experts have been warning during the pandemic that strict measures will have a huge negative impact on children’s health when the country reopens.
Lockdowns and school closures didn’t only affect children’s mental health; they now also have a weak immune system, which results in an abnormally high number of flu cases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there have been at least 6.2 million illnesses, 53,000 hospitalizations, and 2,900 deaths from flu this season. The cumulative hospitalization rate in the FluSurv-NET system is higher than the rate observed in week 46 during every previous season since 2010-2011.
Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis, the director of health for the city of St. Louis, Missouri, spoke to CBS News and said that there are several reasons for the high number of flu cases nationwide in children, noting that school closures, lockdowns, and children spending too much time at home during the pandemic are part of the current problem. Dr. Davis also noted that ICUs are already full of patients, including children, and the number of cases is going to grow in the upcoming months, having in mind that we are currently at the very beginning of the flu season.
Hospitals across the United States are overwhelmed. The combination of a swarm of respiratory illnesses (RSV, coronavirus, flu), staffing shortages, and nursing home closures has sparked the state of distress visited upon the already overburdened health-care system. And experts believe the problem will deteriorate further in the coming months.
“This is not just an issue. This is a crisis,” said Anne Klibanski, president and CEO of Mass General Brigham in Boston. “We are caring for patients in the hallways of our emergency departments. There is a huge capacity crisis, and it’s becoming more and more impossible to take care of patients correctly and provide the best care that we all need to be providing,” Klibanski added.
The number of flu cases in Arkansas has been growing since a month ago, and the limited number of beds in hospitals and staffing shortages are only part of the problem. Several people in Arkansas reported last week that they were having difficulty getting the medications they needed to feel better due to statewide shortages of some antibiotics and flu medications.