Fewer people are hospitalized with RSV and COVID, but the flu is still circulating and the respiratory season is not over yet

Children's Hospital Colorado
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Children’s Hospital Colorado at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora, Aug. 30, 2019.

The number of Coloradans hospitalized with RSV dropped last week, but there are still a few months to go before we’re out of the season for respiratory viruses. 

In the most recent data released, the week ending Dec. 24, there were 44 children hospitalized with RSV, a welcome decline from an unprecedented number of pediatric hospitalizations in November. There were 299 children in the hospital at RSV’s peak in mid-November, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. 

“The RSV numbers right now are very encouraging,” said Dr. Edwin Asturias, a pediatric doctor of infectious disease at Children's Hospital.  “I doubt that we will have another wave with the dimensions and the severity that we saw coming in October and November.”

The number of people in the hospital for COVID-19 has dipped too. 

According to the state health department, 306 people are in the hospital with COVID-19, a drop of more than 30 people from the previous week. The seven-day test positivity rate has also dropped to a low of 1.2 percent, but it doesn’t include home tests and it’s unclear whether fewer people got tested over the holidays.

The declining numbers seem to indicate the threat of a “tripledemic” of COVID, RSV and influenza may have abated.

“I think in terms of the worry that these three infectious respiratory viruses would come together and surge in a way that would strain hospital capacity, we've escaped,” said Dr. Jon Samet, dean of the Colorado School of Public Health.

Cases of the flu, however, are not declining. 

More than 360 people were hospitalized with the flu during the week ending Dec. 24 — bringing the total hospitalizations this season to nearly 2,100.

And the flu season is far from over.

The rate at which Coloradans are getting the flu right now far outpaces the last seven flu seasons, according to state health department data. 

Samet said that it’s important to remember that influenza can be a severe disease and it still leads to hospitalizations and deaths. And experts are expecting more people to come down with it this season.

“We'll likely see a second wave of influenza that I'm expecting will be happening between January and February,” Dr. Asturias said. “So the most important thing that people should get as a message is that they should get their flu vaccine now, or as soon as possible so they are ready and prepared for the next wave.”

Other experts echoed the caution — that the flu and COVID still could pose a great risk in the next few weeks. John Swartzberg, a clinical professor expert in infectious diseases at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, said he’s waiting until mid-January to really understand what kind of punch this respiratory season is packing, particularly for COVID.

“If we don't have a real major surge by the second to third week of January, I think we can really be cautiously optimistic that we're doing a better job controlling this in spite of the fact that nobody's behaving in a way that controls it,” Swartzberg said. “Because we'll see the full effect of New Year's and Christmas by then.”

Both doctors said that they are closely watching the COVID surge in China right now. 

Samet said there is a lot of uncertainty in predicting the trajectory of respiratory viruses, but the drop in RSV cases and the fewer people hospitalized with COVID are reasons to be optimistic. 

“I think every time we're in a lull, we should say, ‘yeah, we're in a lull,’ and then we'll have to wait and see what happens next,” Samet said. 

Meanwhile, the state department of health and doctors across the state said that getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself. And, even if it means you miss the New Year’s party, to just stay home if you’re feeling ill or having any symptoms of a virus.