The government's public emergency surrounding COVID-19 may be over, but the virus has not gone away. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that there was a 12.5% increase in deaths due to the virus in the first week of the year compared to the last week of 2023.
Massachusetts, Missouri and New Jersey had the most dramatic increases in COVID-19-related deaths in the first week of 2024.
While hospitalizations and positive tests are also up, health officials say the U.S. is in a much better position to deal with COVID-19 outbreaks. There are safe and effective vaccines and treatments that were not available in 2020.
Johns Hopkins Medicine began requiring masks for patients, visitors and employees Friday at all of its health care facilities in Maryland, regardless of vaccination status.
"We anticipate this requirement to be in effect on a short-term basis while viral respiratory illness rates are high," the hospital said in a statement.
The current wave of COVID-19 is being fueled by the JN.1 variant. It now accounts for more than 60% of new cases in the U.S. The CDC notes that JN.1 is either "more transmissible or better at evading our immune systems" than other variants.
As new variants have popped up over the past few years, people have complained about different symptoms. Early during the pandemic, the loss of taste and smell was common in people with the virus. Research shows only about 6% of people report those symptoms.
Danny Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College London, told the BBC that symptoms appear to change with different variants.
"We've had periods where the earliest symptom is headache, and others where it's more gastrointestinal," he said. "We all to go back to life as normal, but the reality is, COVID isn't going anywhere."
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