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Coronavirus Update: With BA.5 the dominant variant, hospitalizations rise to 4-month high

While the daily averages of new COVID-19 cases and deaths remained in relatively tight ranges, hospitalizations jumped to a four-month high, and the positivity rate of tests climbed to a five-month high, as the omicron subvariant BA.5 continued to spread.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said this week that variant-of-concern (VOC) BA.5 is now dominant, making up 53.6% of total cases. That’s about double the percentage of the B.2.12.1 variant at 27.2%, while the BA.4 variant was at 16.5%.

And while the new daily case count may not be breakout out to multi-month highs, concerns over a coming surge may be growing among healthcare regulators, as the positivity rate of COVID test continues to surge. The rate reached 17% on Wednesday, according to a New York Times tracker. That’s the highest rate since early February, and is up from 8.1% two months ago, and up from a March low of 2.1%.

The positivity rates are highest in Missouri at 36% and Nevada at 32%, and lowest in Vermont at 4%.

As positivity rates rise, the number of COVID-related hospitalizations appears to be breaking out, to 34,731 on Wednesday. The number has increased 13% in two weeks, and is now the most since March 7.

The daily average of those hospitalized in intensive-care units (ICUs) has climbed 14% in two weeks to 3,924, the most since March 18.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

On the positive side, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday that pharmacists can now prescribe Pfizer Inc.’s
PFE,
+0.54%

COVID-19 pill Paxlovid directly to patients.

Pfizer had said last month, however, that Paxlovid doesn’t help reduce symptoms in people who are vaccinated or considered “standard risk” for severe infection. The drugmaker said Paxlovid is most effective for high-risk unvaccinated people.

The latest data from the CDC shows that the percentage of fully vaccinated Americans has held steady at 66.9% of the total population. The percentage of fully vaccinated people who have received a booster shot was also little change, at 47.8%.

Meanwhile, the seven-day average of new cases was 107,879 on Wednesday, up 11% from two weeks ago, New York Times data shows, but right in the middle of the relatively narrow two-month range of above 95,000 and below 115,000.

Oklahoma paced the states in increases in new cases over the past two weeks at 91%, followed by Minnesota at 90%, while Washington, D.C. saw new cases drop 35%.

The daily average for deaths was 323 on Wednesday, up 8% from two weeks ago, but was at the lower end of a relatively narrow range over the past couple months.

On a global basis, the total number of cases recorded rose to 552.53 million and deaths have reached 6,344,824, based on the latest data provided by Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. is the world leader in cases at 88.26 million and deaths at 1,019,083.

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