COVID levels in the United States have hit their second-highest point since the beginning of the pandemic, according to recent federal wastewater data. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released data on Friday, revealing that on December 30, national COVID wastewater levels were at 12.85, which is the number of standard deviations above baseline. This surpasses the previous second-highest peak that occurred on December 31, 2022, during the “Kraken” surge. The highest level of COVID wastewater was recorded on January 8, 2022, during the first wave of the Omicron variant.
Experts have highlighted that with COVID testing at an all-time low, wastewater data has become the most reliable and expedient method of tracking the virus’s spread. As COVID hospitalizations surge, new CDC data shows that hospitalizations have increased by more than 20% week over week. Furthermore, COVID-related emergency room visits and deaths have risen by approximately 13%. Internationally, the JN.1 variant, which has become dominant globally, accounts for over 40% of reported COVID sequences worldwide.
There is ongoing debate among experts regarding the significance of the JN.1 variant in the evolution of the pandemic. Some experts argue that JN.1, a descendant of the highly mutated Omicron variant BA.2.86, should be assigned its own Greek letter by the World Health Organization (WHO). Conversely, others believe that JN.1 is merely another variant in the continuous evolution of the virus. The WHO has stated that it would assign a new Greek letter if necessary, but currently, it is waiting for a variant that is “truly different” and has a substantial impact on public health.
Despite the ongoing discussions surrounding the naming of the JN.1 variant, it is widely agreed upon by experts that it represents a significant milestone in viral evolution. This variant, with its high mutation rate, is likely to serve as the origin for future variants. It has shifted the outlook on the occurrence of extreme evolutionary events with SARS-CoV-2. Public health officials are closely monitoring the situation to assess the impact of JN.1 and its potential implications for the ongoing pandemic.
As the United States grapples with rising COVID levels and the emergence of the JN.1 variant, it is crucial for individuals to remain vigilant and follow recommended guidelines. It remains uncertain how the situation will evolve in the coming weeks, but continued monitoring and careful adherence to public health measures will be crucial in mitigating the impact of the virus.