“Overall, the people who got away with Covid are much, much less ill than they were this winter,” said Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency room physician at Brown University. “It feels almost like a different disease to people, except for people who are very old, unvaccinated, or immunocompromised.”
Differences in access to booster shots and antiviral pills have also put some Americans at higher risk. Black and Hispanic individuals who are eligible for booster shots received the shots at lower rates than whites, reflecting what some epidemiologists describe as limited efforts in some states to get booster shots within reach. Patients who do not have a family doctor or live far from pharmacies may also have trouble getting antiviral pills.
The number of hospitalized Covid patients is still rising across the country, making it likely that a gradual increase in deaths will follow, epidemiologists said. It’s unclear how hard the wave will hit less vaccinated regions like the South, where immunity to previous infections has also increased.
“Unfortunately, vaccination rates in many southern states are among the lowest in the country,” said Jason Salemi, a professor of epidemiology at the University of South Florida. “But there’s certainly a lot of immunity built up from previous infection.”
While fewer cases are fatal, the unprecedented number of infections this winter and spring has itself created significant problems. In the United States, one in five adult survivors of Covid under the age of 65 has been dealing with some version of Long Covid, a recent study has found. Many people have missed work, including doctors, whose absences this spring have regularly strained hospitals already struggling with staffing.
dr Karan, from Stanford, said he had ongoing symptoms through April since a January battle with Covid. A month later he was infected again. As of last week, he said his team of five doctors at one of the hospitals where he works was reduced to two due to the absence of Covid when the subvariant surge hit California, causing delays in some patients’ consultations.