We’ve all heard the phrase “gone but not forgotten.”
But for COVID-19, it’s more like “forgotten but not gone.”
Within the last few weeks, there has been a nationwide, regional, and local increase in the number of cases of coronavirus.
COVID killed more than one million Americans, and 170 Evanstonians during the pandemic which officially began in March, 2020. The Public Health Emergency was ended by both the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in May of this year.
But despite the pandemic being declared over, people are still getting the virus. Nowhere near as many during the 2020-22 peaks, but still, more than just a few weeks ago.
“We all have to learn to live with it,” says Dr. Jennifer Grant, co-medical director of infectious prevention and control at NorthShore University HealthSystem, the chain which includes Evanston Hospital.
“It’s not going anywhere for awhile,” Grant tells Evanston Now.
Nationally, the CDC noted a 12% increase in hospital admissions for COVID in the week ending July 22 over the week before. (That’s about 8,000 patients).
In our area, Grant says the four NorthShore hospitals she covers had 11 COVID inpatients as of Monday, up from a low of four during one period in June.
While percentagewise, going from four to 11 is a large increase, in raw numbers it’s still quite low compared, for example, to early January 2022, when the four hospitals had 155 inpatients, including 22 in intensive care.
Currently, none of the NorthShore COVID patients at the four facilities are in the ICU.
The obvious questions become why is there an uptick now, and what can we expect and/or do in the future?
Grant says COVID-19 may simply become another seasonal virus that we have to get used to and get vaccinated for, like the flu.
But with the emergency no longer with us, and masks almost a thing of the past, “people in the community are more relaxed,” Grant says.
“It’s just hard for everyone to be on high alert all the time unless you have underlying health problems,” she adds.
Plus, Evanston has one of the highest vaccination rates in the nation (close to 100% for at least one vaccine dosage for those above age 5), so COVID is “not the frightening thing it once was.”
The Health Department says Evanston has seen nearly 23,000 cases since March 2020, and 170 deaths of city residents.
However, only 7 Evanstonians have been reported with COVID as of Sunday, compared to a peak day of 251 new cases at the high point in January 2022.
Grant says it’s possible that more cases are currently going unreported. People may take a home COVID test, determine they’re ill, but if the symptoms are mild, might not even go to the doctor.
Even if vaccination may not prevent getting COVID for some, it should make the symptoms far less painful and dangerous.
A new booster shot is on the horizon, targeting the current XBB variant. Those shots might be available this fall. Details from the CDC are still pending.
Individuals should consult with their doctor to decide if they should get a booster now, or wait until the new one is released.
“We need to keep people boosted over time,” Grant says.
Despite the recent uptick in cases, Grant says, “it’s not necessary to hit the panic button again.”
COVID, she says, is going to “ebb and flow, just like the flu.”
But, she adds, it’s wrong to get complacent.
“COVID is not gone. It’s probably going to surprise us from time to time until we get a handle on it.”