angela n./Flickr / https://n.pr/3G3t0io
Cases in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia are declining following the omicron surge.
angela n./Flickr / https://n.pr/3G3t0io
Almost as quickly as it began, omicron's surge appears to be waning in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia.
Experts predicted that the region, which experienced the omicron surge earlier than many other parts of the U.S., would see new infections peak by late January. And while case rates locally remain higher than past surges, new infection rates have dropped significantly since the staggering numbers recorded earlier this year. In the last seven days, cases per 100,000 residents have declined by more than 50% in D.C. and Maryland, and by more than 20% in Virginia.
"With omicron, we have been seeing this very same pattern in many countries across the world: they have a very fast exponential increase to the top of that peak, and then an equally fast decrease to levels that were pre-omicron, and that tends to happen in a four to six week period," says Amira Roess, a professor of global health and epidemiology at George Mason University. "And that is what we are seeing in D.C. very significantly."
As of Thursday, Jan. 27, D.C. is recording an average of 417 new cases per day – a roughly 80% decrease from the first week of January, when the daily average tipped past 2,250. The weekly case rate per 100,000 residents stands at 379 currently, down from more than 1,308 three weeks ago.
Still, the current average of more than 400 new infections a day (while a marked improvement from earlier this month) remains higher than case levels reported during previous surges; in the January 2021 wave, the city saw a daily case average peaking near 300.
"We've had a remarkable decrease in our weekly case rate, one of the fastest decreases in new cases," DC Health director LaQuandra Nesbitt said during a COVID update on Thursday. "However, we still remain slightly above the peak that we saw in our winter surge last year. So it's important for our residents to continue to remain vigilant."
Courtesy of/DC Health
D.C.'s weekly case rate per 100,000 residents.
Courtesy of/DC Health
On Wednesday, Bowser issued an order extending the city's indoor mask mandate until Feb. 28 (it was originally slated to expire on Jan. 31). She also extended the city's limited public health emergency until Feb. 15, put in place to allow hospitals flexibility in their operations as the surge in cases overwhelmed the city's healthcare system in mid-January. Hospitalization metrics, Nesbitt said Thursday, are also improving; the city has recorded a decrease week to week in the proportion of people contracting COVID and those who end up hospitalized. According to the Washington Post, hospitalizations are down more than 20% in the city over the past week.
Deaths, which lag a few weeks behind case or hospitalization trends, have risen in recent weeks. On Jan. 13, DC Health reported that 10 residents died of the virus, the highest single-day death toll since January 2021. A majority of individuals dying of the virus are unvaccinated, according to officials.
According to Roess, its likely that the decline in cases and hospitalizations will continue in the coming weeks, but it's less clear when the region's caseloads will return to the levels recorded before the omicron wave.
"Right now we're in the face of significant decrease in cases and then it will slow down that decrease will slow down and where we end up...that's not exactly clear," Roess says. "We're hoping that it does get down to pre-omicron levels, but time will tell."
At a Board of Public Works meeting on Jan. 26, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan provided an optimistic outlook for the state, 22 days into the 30-day state of emergency declared as cases skyrocketed in late December.
"The current data continues to show very encouraging trends," Hogan said.
Since the peak in cases earlier in January, the state's case rate declined by nearly 68%, and currently Maryland reports the lowest case rate of any state in the U.S., according to Hogan. The state's positivity rate, which measures the number of positive cases out of all tests administered, has dipped as well, standing at an average of 11.59% on Thursday, Jan. 27, down from a peak of nearly 29% in the first days of January. Statewide hospitalizations are also down 35%, after peaking on Jan. 13, and deaths from the virus have dipped down slightly in recent days, after a spike that began in late December.
In Prince George's County and Montgomery County, case rates per 100,000 residents have dropped by 83% and 79%, respectively, since hitting record-breaking levels in the first days of 2022 — but still remain higher than during any other wave of the virus.
Earlier this week, Montgomery County councilmembers voted to extend the county's indoor mask mandate to Feb. 21, even as officials note the downward trend in hospitalizations and cases.
In Northern Virginia, cases have steadily declined over the past week. The region's current seven-day average of cases is down nearly 60% from the peak two weeks ago. According to Roess, Virginia remains in the early days of its decline compared to Maryland and D.C., but the downward trend is likely to hold.
Hospitalizations are also showing sign of improvement statewide — the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 peaked at almost 4,000 last week, and is down to roughly 3,300 this week. According to the Virginia Health Department, unvaccinated Virginians are nearly four times as likely to be hospitalized with COVID than fully vaccinated residents.
Meanwhile the number of people dying from the virus in Northern Virginia has slightly increased over the past month, but remains far lower than the number of individuals who died during the January 2021 surge before vaccines were widely available. This can be attributed, in part, to the protection afforded by vaccines — but Roess notes that certain interventions are still needed, especially as the strain on the region's hospital system wears on. Earlier this week, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin's executive order preventing school systems from mandating face masks went into effect, although several Northern Virginia school systems have bucked the directive and taken legal action to block it.
"The vaccine is providing some very good protection against severe cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, and that's moving us closer to a position where we could find ourselves actually able to live with the virus," Roess says. "[But] I think it is premature to make predictions about exactly when we can do away with masks, test-to-stay strategies, and other mitigation strategies."
This story is from DCist.com, the local news site of WAMU.