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Thanksgiving kicked off a COVID wave and it’s hitting US hospitals already battling triple migraines: ‘It’s the perfect storm for a terrible holiday season’

“The increase is especially concerning as we move into the winter months, when people congregate indoors with less ventilation,” Walensky said in a call with reporters. That’s more concerning, he added, given upcoming holiday family gatherings involving seniors, who are at increased risk for serious outcomes from all respiratory diseases circulating at high levels this fall.

COVID hospitalizations in the United States began to rise sharply after Thanksgiving, particularly among those aged 70 and older. The current average seven-day COVID hospitalization is 4,650, According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—up 27% from the previous week.

US hospitals are already under immense stress this fall, with epidemic levels of RSV and influenza in the country, as well as COVID, forming what experts are calling a “tripledemic.” Hospitalizations for adults increased 15 to 20 percent week over week last week, mostly among older adults and those with preexisting health conditions, Walensky said.

77% of US ICU beds were occupied last week, according to Johns Hopkins. Most of those beds, nearly 56,000, are occupied by patients who don’t have COVID, while only 4,000 are occupied by those who do.

Levels of flu or flu-like illnesses are also “high” or “very high” in 47 US jurisdictions, up from 36 last week, Walensky said. Since Oct. 1, the United States has recorded nearly 9 million confirmed cases of the flu, nearly 80,000 hospitalizations and 4,500 deaths from the disease. During the last full week of November, flu hospitalizations nearly doubled from the previous week, according to CDC data.

And RSV levels remain high nationwide, although there are some signs they may have peaked in the South and Southeast, Walensky added.

This year’s flu season got off to an early and dramatic start, said Dr. Sandra Fryhofer, chair of the board of directors of the American Medical Association. “And with COVID and RSV, it’s the perfect storm for a terrible holiday season.”

“You could get really sick this year and ruin your holiday celebration if you don’t get the vaccine,” she said, urging those eligible to get their Omicron booster and their flu shot, which can safely be received at the same time.

Even those who have already had the flu this season should get vaccinated if they haven’t already, Fryhofer added. Multiple variants of the flu are circulating, as usual, and it’s possible to catch it several times in a season.

Federal health officials on Monday encouraged those feeling sick to test themselves for COVID and arrange for a flu test if their COVID test comes back negative. Antivirals like Tamiflu for the flu and Paxlovid for COVID are available by prescription, but must be taken early in an infection to make a difference, they said.

Walensky also recommended that residents of nearly 6 percent of US counties with high “community levels” of COVID mask up, as well as those traveling by plane, train and bus, and those who are immunocompromised or at risk of serious illness.

Community levelsis a measure the federal health agency determines by examining new COVID hospital admissions in a county, as well as the percentage of staffed beds used by COVID patients. According to this metric, nearly a quarter of US counties have “average” community levels of COVID and nearly 70% have “low” levels.

The metric, however, differs from “community transmissionof COVID, which the CDC determines by looking at the number of new cases reported to public health officials in the past week, as well as the percentage of laboratory COVID tests that have tested positive. According to this metric, more than half of the country has “high” COVID transmission, while more than a quarter has “substantial” transmission.