(NEXSTAR) – We’re well into fall, but the surge in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths that started over the summer has started to decline. The respite may be short-lived. Winter, the typical peak season for respiratory viruses, is just around the corner.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it’s expecting a “moderate COVID-19 wave” this winter, with a peak matching last winter’s hospitalization levels. “COVID-19 could peak earlier than last season, however, because of limited summer activity compared to past years,” the agency added.
Former White House COVID response coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha said he expects cases to keep dropping for the next month or two before rising again during the winter holidays.
It’s not clear yet how the new booster shot, formulated to specifically target common omicron strains, will impact the size of this year’s surge. “Whether hospitalizations rise will depend in part on uptake of the COVID booster,” said Amber D’Souza, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
“But as infectious diseases often spread more across the colder holiday months from Thanksgiving through New Year’s,” she continued, “we expect that COVID hospitalization numbers will likely rise in December and January, though they should hopefully not reach severe levels given the population immunity levels we now have.”
The CDC also cited widespread population-level immunity, thanks to vaccines and prior infections, as another reason this year’s surge isn’t expected to break records. However, the agency acknowledged a substantially new variant, if one were to emerge, could lead to worse outcomes.
COVID isn’t the only virus that’s a cause for concern come wintertime. The CDC anticipates a normal influenza season and RSV season. But even in a “normal” year, the two viruses take the lives of tens of thousands of Americans.