CDC urges masking return as tripledemic surges

(NewsNation) — Concerns are growing nationwide for rapidly increasing cases of what health officials have deemed a tripledemic: the flu, RSV and COVID-19, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is once again urging the public to wear face masks indoors.

According to the agency’s Dec. 8 report, 13.7% of Americans now live in communities now rated “high” COVID-19 Community Levels, up from 4.9% of the population last week. An additional 38.1% of Americans are in “medium” areas and 48.2% are in “low” areas. 

A number of major cities are now mulling a return to masking measures.

In California, more than 10 counties, including Los Angeles, Maricopa, Nassau and San Bernardino, are now in the “high” tier.

Los Angeles County health officials are again strongly recommending that everyone wears masks indoors.

Over the past week, Los Angeles hospitals saw an average of 1,245 COVID-positive patients every day — that’s a nearly 20% jump over the previous seven days.

“When you put on your mask for these few weeks during this surge, it is about the people of LA County. it is about every individual, every visitor, our health care workers, essential workers and other people who serve. in addition to vaccination, it is one of the easiest things everyone can do right now,” Dr. Barbara Ferrer, Los Angeles County director of public health, wrote in a press release.

In New York, a health advisory notice was sent out alerting hospitals, local health departments, emergency rooms and labs to prepare for rapidly rising cases of respiratory illness.

The Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island are in orange, meaning high-risk levels, while Manhattan is in yellow, the medium-risk level, according to the latest CDC data.

On Dec. 9, state officials urged schools to return to indoor masking to curb the spread of respiratory illnesses.

As the Christmas and New Year’s holidays approach, when families are expected to gather across the country, health officials fear that could put a significant strain on our health care system if people don’t take the proper precautions.

“Our immune system has not been revved up. The vaccine rates are lower. We are a prime sitting target for other respiratory illnesses as we relax our guard down and begin to have contact with other people,” said Dr. Bruce Hirsch, an attending physician in infectious diseases at Northwell Health.

Medical centers across America are reporting higher rates of hospitalizations, and nursing homes are pushing boosters for residents.

As for RSV, the ones at greatest risk are children 6 months and younger who haven’t built up strong immune systems yet. An RSV vaccine is reported to become available by this time next year.

CDC director urges vaccination amid record high reports of flu, RSV

Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), warned of extremely high levels of respiratory illness in the U.S. on Monday, particularly flu hospitalizations, and made another call for people to stay up to date on their vaccinations.

In a briefing, Walensky said the U.S. is seeing elevated levels of COVID-19, the flu and RSV. The CDC director noted higher levels of the latter two viruses compared to last year.

Levels of flu-like illness, which includes people going to doctors with a fever and a cough or sore throat, are either high or very high level in 47 jurisdictions, and that is up from 36 jurisdictions just last week,” Walensky said.

According to Walensky, the CDC estimates that since the start of October, there have been at least 8.7 million cases of flu, 78,000 related hospitalizations and 4,500 deaths detected.

Two more pediatric deaths due to flu were reported last week, bringing the total for this season to 14.

“Flu hospital admissions reported through HHS’s hospital surveillance system, which were already high for this time of year, have nearly doubled during the last reporting period compared to the week prior,” said Walensky. “Hospitalizations for flu continue to be the highest we have seen at this time of year in a decade, demonstrating the significantly earlier flu season we are experiencing.”

According to CDC data, about 26 percent of U.S. adults have received a flu vaccine, slightly higher than the vaccine coverage at this time last year. However, Walensky noted vaccination rates are lower among some high-risk groups, including children, adults over 65 and pregnant people.

Flu vaccination rates for pregnant people were significantly lower across all ethnicities. Among non-Hispanic white pregnant people, vaccine uptake was 14 percent lower. This drop was even greater among non-Hispanic Asian pregnant people, with 15 percent fewer getting the shot compared to last year.

Sandra Fryhofer, board chair of the American Medical Association, said during the briefing that it was particularly important for pregnant people to get vaccinated against the flu because this protection would in turn be conferred to their infants, who are not eligible for vaccination for the first six months of their lives.

“I want to emphasize that flu vaccine can be life-saving and importantly there is still time to get vaccinated to be protected against flu this season,” Walensky said.

The CDC director also noted an “unfortunate and expected” rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations across the country following the Thanksgiving holiday.

She urged people to get the updated COVID-19 booster if they have not done so already, stating that those who received their first two shots are still considered fully vaccinated but are not considered fully protected against the coronavirus.

“Both the updated COVID-19 vaccines and this year’s flu vaccines were formulated to protect against the viruses that are currently circulating right now,” Walensky said. “And recent data from CDC show updated COVID-19 vaccines help protect against COVID-19 illness and COVID-19-associated deaths. Early surveillance shows that people who receive their updated COVID-19 vaccine this year were nearly 15 times less likely to die from COVID-19 compared to people who are not vaccinated.”

These 10 states still have COVID emergency orders in place

(The Hill) — New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) announced Monday that she will end the state’s COVID-19 state of emergency amid falling case numbers and rising criticism.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has faded as a major concern for much of the American public, there are still 10 states across the U.S. with emergency orders in place.

States first declared public emergencies in March 2020, and governors kept renewing them until around the spring of 2022, when the pandemic eased after a brutal winter surge driven by the omicron variant.

Unless renewed, nearly all of the emergency declarations in the remaining 10 states will expire by the beginning of 2023.

Here are the 10 states with orders still in effect as of Sept. 12.

California

Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) extended the COVID-19 state of emergency in June. But he has also been “responsibly winding down” pandemic executive orders, leaving 5 percent of COVID-related provisions in place, according to a June 17 statement from Newsom’s office.

“As California navigates the evolving pandemic, the state remains laser-focused on keeping Californians safe while advancing our ongoing recovery,” Newsom said. “We’re continuing to deploy proven strategies and programs that allow us to swiftly and effectively respond to changing pandemic conditions, take on equity gaps, and keep us moving forward.”

Connecticut

The state has an emergency declaration in place for COVID-19 until Dec. 28, 2022, or until the federal government’s public health emergency ends, whichever comes first.

Gov. Ned Lamont (D) said in a letter to the state legislature that it was beneficial for the state to keep the emergency, primarily to assist with food insecurity.

During the emergency, the federal government is authorized to distribute more assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Delaware

Gov. John Carney (D) last renewed the public health emergency for COVID-19 on Aug. 19. It will expire on Sept. 18 unless renewed.

Washington

With the state experiencing declining COVID-19 death rates, Gov. Jay Inslee (D) announced he would end the public health emergency on Oct. 31.

“We’ve come a long way the past two years in developing the tools that allow us to adapt and live with COVID-19,” Inslee said in a statement.

“Ending this order does not mean we take it less seriously or will lose focus on how this virus has changed the way we live. We will continue our commitments to the public’s well-being, but simply through different tools that are now more appropriate for the era we’ve entered.”

New Mexico

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) extended the state’s public health emergency for a month starting on Aug. 17. It will expire on Sept. 15 unless renewed.

Upon renewing the order, she wrote: “Due to the continued spread of COVID-19, it is necessary for all branches of State government to continue taking actions to minimize transmission of COVID-19 and reduce its attendant physical and economic harms.”

Texas

Gov. Greg Abbott (R) last renewed the state’s public health emergency in August and will have to decide whether to renew it again later this month.

Abbott said the COVID-19 pandemic still presents an “imminent threat of disaster for all counties in the State of Texas.”

Illinois

Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) extended the public health emergency in August, and it will remain in effect until at least Sept. 17.

Pritzker said more than 34,500 Illinoisans have died in the pandemic and added that “predicting what will happen in the future in this pandemic continues to be a difficult task.”

Kansas

The Kansas legislature passed a law this year extending emergency powers through January 2023, primarily to assist overburdened healthcare workers.

West Virginia

Gov. Jim Justice (R) first declared a public health emergency in March 2020 and has yet to lift the order. He continues to give regular updates to the public about the state’s pandemic response.

Rhode Island

Gov. Daniel McKee (D) extended the public health emergency earlier this month, citing “the dangers to health and life posed by SARS-CoV-2.” It will expire after Sept. 30 unless renewed.

Alzheimer's and Long Covid, could they be related?

JOPLIN, Mo. — Many people lost their sense of smell and taste when they had COVID. And, for some, it didn’t come back for quite a while.

Could it indicate cognitive problems later in life?

When he had COVID three years ago, Dr. Rob McNab, COVID Director for the Freeman Health System, lost his ability to taste and smell. In fact, he says it’s still not back to normal.

So is he among the part of the population more prone to develop Alzheimer’s? He says it wouldn’t surprise him if he was.

“Interestingly, we’ve known for decades that one of the very first symptoms of Alzheimer’s is the loss of smell and taste, so and that was independent of a viral infection like Covid, so there is some connection to that part of the brain that does contribute to overall dementia risk,” said Dr. McNab.

The way our brains are wired, Dr. McNab says a smell will oftentimes trigger a memory from our past.

“How we process our memories is definitely related to the Olfactory Lobe, our sense of smell, so that’s always been there, so I think it just intuitively makes sense to a lot of us that if you damage that part of the brain, that determines the smelling sensation, that it’s already a part of the machinery of our memory,” he added.

Because COVID has only been around for a few years, there’s simply not enough data to determine if there is, for sure, a link between the two. Until long-term studies are done and do draw a conclusive correlation, he says people with covid symptoms like he had should control the part of their health they can.

“Stress management, a good amount of sleep, a very healthy diet that is focussed on whole foods and plant-based regimes, anything that reduces your cardiovascular risk, keeping control of your blood pressure and cholesterol, and of course, if you have diabetes, the more tightly you control that, the lower your risk is going to be,” said Dr. McNab.

COVID cases up again in the Four States

NEWTON COUNTY, Mo. — Newton County is now up to a medium alert level for covid-19 cases.

This is according to the Newton County Health Department.

The recent spike in cases reports only mild or even no symptoms at all. Health department officials say the last two years have shown an increase in cases following the 4th of July holiday.

“If you’re going to be attending a large gathering event, you might just want to be aware. If you have an underlying health condition, that would put you at higher risk, and so those who have that underlying health condition should really be aware. You may not want to attend a large gathering event. If you’re healthy, especially younger, then your chances of getting a severe case are very minimal,” said Larry Bergner, Administrator, Newton County Health Department.

The CDC bases the level on three measurements: new covid-19 admissions, new cases per 100,000 people in the past 7 days, and the number of hospital beds occupied by covid-19 patients.

More than 90 reported covid-19 cases are active currently in the county.

Several of our other Four State counties are also in the medium level however, 9 of our counties are in the high level.

KDHE: Almost 5,000 new coronavirus cases, 134 hospitalizations

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — The number of Kansans testing positive for the coronavirus increased by 4,988 in the past seven days. That is the largest seven-day increase since mid-February.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) says the seven-day average of new cases is 667, which is 115 more than last Wednesday. Of the recent cases, 84 are the BA.2 stealth omicron variant.

The KDHE said seven more Kansas deaths have been linked to COVID-19, and 134 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 symptoms.

  • 121 patients are adults, an increase of two over last week
  • 13 are children, up five from last week
  • 14 of the patients are in intensive care, an increase of four since last Wednesday

An infection specialist at the University of Kansas Health System in Kansas City said the COVID-19 patients who are being admitted are the ones who are not caught up on their COVID-19 vaccinations.

“The vaccine is like air bags or a seat belt — it won’t prevent you from getting into a car wreck, but what it will do is prevent you from having those severe or sub-optimal outcomes,” Dr. Dana Hawkinson, University of Kansas Health System, said. “That’s what the vaccine does. It prevents hospitalizations, reduces risk of hospitalizations and severe disease.”

The KDHE says more than 14,000 people got vaccinated against COVID-19 in the past seven days:

  • 3,963 Kansans got their first dose
  • 2,198 got a second dose
  • 8,591 got a booster shot

Of Kansans eligible to get vaccinated, 67.59% have received at least one dose of vaccine, while 59.14% have completed a vaccine series.

COVID-19 vaccines are now available for infants, toddlers and preschoolers. We have reached out to the KDHE to see if any of the newly vaccinated Kansans are in that young age group, but we have not heard back yet.

As summer begins, US COVID-19 cases six times higher than last year

(The Hill) – As the U.S. marks Memorial Day weekend and the unofficial start of summer, the seven-day average for COVID-19 cases in the U.S. are more than six times what they were a year ago.

The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center showed a seven-day average of 119,725 cases as of Saturday. That figure held at 17,887 cases on May 28 of last year. 

Despite the rising infection rate, COVID-related deaths were down from last year, a sign of increased immunity through vaccines and prior infections, along with wider availability of treatments.

The seven-day average of 470 deaths reported on Friday marked a decrease from 637 on the same day last year. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said that about 54 percent of the U.S. population is experiencing low COVID-19 community levels, though some areas are seeing medium and high levels.

But the more than fivefold increase in infections comes as health experts have warned Americans to exercise caution ahead of a possible surge. 

Almost a month ago, Deborah Birx, a leading member of the Trump administration’s White House coronavirus task force, said that Americans should be “preparing right now for a potential surge in this summer across the southern United States.” 

Bill Gates has warned that it is possible that the worst of this pandemic has not yet occurred, pressing for more investments needed to prevent a future pandemic.

“We’re still at risk of this pandemic generating a variant that would be even more transmissive and even more fatal,” he said. “It’s not likely, I don’t want to be a voice of doom and gloom, but it’s way above a 5 percent risk that this pandemic, we haven’t even seen the worst of it.”

Still, current COVID-19 case numbers are well below peaks this winter, when the highly transmissible omicron variant contributed to a widespread uptick in inflections.

Freeman COVID testing site closing

JOPLIN, Mo. — It’s the official end-of-operations for a Joplin drive-thru site, a closing that took more than two years to hit.

Freeman Health System shut down its COVID-19 drive-thru operation, which had handled both testing and vaccines.

Workers estimate the Freeman COVID call center handled 70,000 calls since March of 2020, and nearly 20,000 tests.

They add shutting down the site is a significant milestone for the community.

“Two years in operation. I don’t think any of us could have thought that the pandemic would have lasted that long. But I think being on the other side of it and moving to an endemic phase is a very exciting time for us as a community and for the nation as a whole,” said Jessica Liberty, Infection Prev.

This is just the latest step for Freeman West. The hospital shut down its COVID-19 unit about a month ago.

Freeman COVID Unit closing

JOPLIN, Mo. — Freeman Health System is celebrating the end of a long two years and looking towards the future.

“Not going to lie, I was a little hesitant. Definitely kind of scared,” said Alissa Terrapin, Freeman Health System ICU Charge Nurse.

Terrapin recalls how it felt when those first COVID-19 patients were admitted to Freeman Health System in March of 2020.

“For the longest time, I feel like they all came in so sick. It was really hard, because a lot of them, unfortunately didn’t make it, and we were the only people able to be with them during that time,” she said.

13 beds reserved for the sickest COVID-19 patients, expanded to 19 as the pandemic reached its height.

17 beds in the medical COVID unit turned into the ability to accomodate 30 patients.

And 9 beds were added in a 3rd unit, known as the ICU step-down. It was a busy unit that took a lot of resources and manpower to care for patients — but things are different now.

“When you look at where we were, even a few months ago and where we are today, we can see the tremendous progress that’s been made,” said Paula Baker, Freeman Health System President & CEO.

“Just to think back, it’s never been this quiet. Always some kind of commotion, I felt like. For the longest time, every day, we’d have multiple patients just crashing and having to, you know, do all the things for them,” added Terrapin.

“We actually were talking to today about how it was weird to come in here and not hear the fans. All of the fans running, there was a really loud hum,” said Jeanee Kennedy, Freeman Health System Chief Nursing Officer.

“This is a day of celebration. I am standing here in the COVID unit of Freeman Health System, and I am very, very pleased to tell you that it is empty of patients. We have zero patients today,” added Baker.

The “COVID ICU” unit will now turn back into a regular ICU area, as the need for a specific COVID Intensive Care Unit is no longer needed.

“I think it’s an incredible, incredible thing. Definitely gives us a little hope that things are going to return to a little more normal,” said Terrapin.

Of course, COVID-19 isn’t completely gone. But, hospital staff say the last two years have prepared them for any other variants that may come along.

“This time we’re really cautiously optimistic about the future, and if we do have a next surge what that will look like for the hospital. But, we’re ready for whatever. But we are enjoying this day, for sure,” Kennedy added.

“We expect that there will be variants, but we also know now that we have resources now that we didn’t have before,” said Baker.

“To know that things are starting to get better for our community is amazing,” said Terrapin.

Jasper Co. Health Dept. changes COVID-19 protocol

CARTHAGE, Mo. — An area county is changing its protocols when it comes to COVID positive residents. They say they have no choice in the matter.

To say the Jasper County Health Department is overrun with COVID positive test results is an understatement according to Administrator Tony Moehr.

He compares this month last year to the new year.

“The highest time in the past was January of last year where we’re having 75 cases a day, as of yesterday we’re having 145 cases a day,” said Moehr.

But trying to track down residents who have tested positive through phone calls, as well as all the people they’ve been in contact with, was taking too much time and employee resources with the number of cases rising so fast.

“We had been making phone calls and doing interviews and contact tracing and all that and then sending out isolation recommendations and quarantine recommendations, we just can’t keep up with that.”

Now residents will get an email with their diagnosis information as well as directing them to a website so they can answer questions on their own.

For someone who has tested COVID positive in Jasper County, this is the 3rd step in the process, you’ll receive this sheet of information by e-mail, and if that’s not possible, you’ll get it through the mail.

“Based on the information they provide us, it will determine what dates they should consider isolation and we will email that to them so they have that for their records or if their employer needs it or school or anyone like that needs it for their records,” added Moehr.

Through this new system, he says residents get the information they need quicker than before and at the same time, takes some of the strain off health department staff, because COVID isn’t the only illness they’re tracking.