CDC projects moderate COVID-19 wave this winter

Nearly four years ago, Salem Hospital made the kind of history no health institution wanted to make. It became COVID-19 central. In 2020, during the first pandemic wave, Salem Hospital had more COVID-19 in-patients than any other community hospital, according to its parent company, MassGeneral Brigham.

Thursday, the hospital dedicated a sculpture to that time when medical units became ICUs to care for the flood of the sickest COVID-19 patients. The sculpture, crafted of iron, consists of three DNA-like structures rising from a bed of chrysanthemums — and is located in the courtyard off the lower floor of the Davenport building.

That was then and this is now. Nobody is expecting a repeat of those early pandemic days, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention IS expecting a triad of viral issues this coming cold season.

The CDC announced its projections for winter 2023-2024 — with a moderate COVID-19 wave expected — along with typical influenza and RSV outbreaks.

But the agency admits there are uncertainties to the forecast — most especially when it comes to what COVID-19 will do.

One thing clinicians DO know is that the currently circulating COVID-19 variants are highly transmissible. “Meaning it takes less viral particles to get sick,” said Robert Klugman, MD, a professor of medicine and head of employee health at UMass Memorial Health. “So if you’re in a crowded space breathing the same air as other people, chances are someone there may have COVID-19 — and you will get COVID-19.”

And while most infections are mild, Klugman said there are compelling reasons — mounting almost weekly — NOT to contract a COVID-19 infection if possible.

“The research that’s coming out more and more indicates that those of us who’ve had COVID-19 may see long-term effects on our immune system, our heart, our lungs,” he said. “Even though it’s a mild disease, it isn’t for everybody. And if you’re the unlucky one who gets a bad dose of it, you’re going to wish you’d gotten the booster.”

In fact, Klugman said he is very concerned for his patients who have had COVID-19 — and are now experiencing what has become known as Long COVID-19.

“It’s scary,” he said. “Every day there’s a new study indicating there are going to be some very long-term sequelae.”

And while everything isn’t known about Long COVID-19, Klugman said it seems as though the sicker you get with a COVID-19 infection, the more likely you are to have lingering symptoms. And what’s frightening for the future, he suggested, is that up to 20 percent of those infected by COVID-19 suffer some sort of long-term manifestation.

Vaccination, he said, remains the best way to protect against the virus.

The Department of Public Health also announced Thursday they will launch several new dashboards to track respiratory illnesses in Massachusetts, including COVID-19, the flu, and RSV. The health organization says one of the driving factors for the new dashboards is an increased recognition to share data on viral respiratory illnesses more broadly.

The new dashboards are available to view on the DPH Website.

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