The emergency status for COVID-19 declared by the government has ended, yet the virus remains present. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the first week of this year saw a 12.5% rise in COVID-19 deaths compared to the final week of 2023.
The states of Massachusetts, Missouri, and New Jersey experienced the sharpest increases in deaths related to COVID-19 at the start of 2024.
The U.S. now handles COVID-19 much better than 2020
Although there are more hospitalizations and positive cases, health experts believe the U.S. is now better equipped to handle COVID-19. Compared to 2020, there are now effective vaccines and treatments available.
Despite many changes since 2020, one familiar precaution is making a comeback: the requirement to wear masks.
Starting Friday, Johns Hopkins Medicine has made it mandatory for everyone—patients, visitors, and staff—at all its Maryland healthcare facilities to wear masks, regardless of whether they are vaccinated or not.
“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.
Most dominant variant currently is the JN.1 variant
The latest surge in COVID-19 cases is mainly due to the JN.1 variant, which now makes up over 60% of new infections in the U.S. The CDC points out that JN.1 is likely more infectious or better at avoiding our immune response than previous variants.
Over time, as new variants have emerged, people have noticed different symptoms. In the early stages of the pandemic, losing the sense of taste and smell was a typical symptom for those infected. However, current research indicates that only about 6% of people are now reporting these symptoms.
Danny Altmann, an immunology professor at Imperial College London, shared with the BBC that the symptoms seem to vary with each new variant.
“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.”