The number of Americans hospitalized with COVID-19 has fallen to a new record low nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.
For the first time, preliminary figures from the CDC totalled just 8,256 COVID-19 hospitalizations for the past week, marking a record low for this key remaining indicator to track the threat posed by the virus.
The CDC’s data, updated late Thursday, has never before fallen below 9,000 weekly admissions of COVID-19 patients, since it first began tracking this metric over the summer of 2020, early during the pandemic.
COVID-19 hospital admissions are one of the few remaining metrics the CDC is relying on to track the spread of the virus and make recommendations, in the wake of the public health emergency’s end earlier this month.
Hospitals are still required to report a slimmed down list of COVID-19 metrics at least weekly to the CDC until April 2024, though recent changes in hospital testing practices recommendations mean fewer infections might be counted by some health care systems.
When COVID-19 hospital admissions reach “high” levels in a county, the agency still plans to urge residents to don masks and take other precautions to curb a surge.
Previous record lows:
This marks at least the third straight year with record lows around this season.
In 2021, weekly COVID-19 hospitalizations slowed during May and June to some of their lowest levels to date, ahead of when President Biden celebrated “independence” from the virus.
But that came only weeks before a new deadly surge in August from the Delta variant, which drove hospitalizations to a weekly peak of 85,785 new admissions.
In 2022, the U.S. recorded new record lows during late April following the mammoth first Omicron variant surge over the previous winter. That winter Omicron wave had topped 150,000 weekly new hospital admissions, the worst since the pandemic began.
Hospitalizations and deaths later accelerated in July and then again in December, though they fell short of the record highs from earlier waves.
New variants on the rise:
The slowdown in hospital admissions comes as a mix of new variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, have continued to inch up nationwide.
XBB.1.5 strains have fallen to nearly half of circulating SARS-CoV-2, according to CDC estimates published Friday. XBB.1.5 had quickly risen to dominate infections late this past winter.
In its place are a number of other closely related strains, like XBB.1.16 variants, which together make up 19% infections. A handful of variants within the XBB.1.9 sublineage are next largest, at around 17.9% combined nationwide.
But officials say they have observed few substantial differences between these XBB descendants, which are now dominant globally.
That was part of why a panel of the World Health Organization’s advisers recently recommended that the next round of COVID-19 boosters be updated to target only XBB strains of the virus.
That is a shift from the current boosters, which are considered “bivalent” vaccines because they combine a component targeted at the original strain of the virus from early in the pandemic with another component targeted at previous strains of the Omicron variant.
The Food and Drug Administration is expected to convene a meeting of its own advisers soon to weigh in with its own recommendations, ahead of a push by vaccine makers to manufacture a newly revised round of boosters in time for this fall and winter.