(Updated at 12:05 p.m.) Colds are in the air this winter, as a new COVID-19 variant has joined forces with the flu and RSV to produce a particularly challenging respiratory illness season.
Covid-related hospitalization levels remain low in Fairfax County, where 145 patients were admitted in the week that ended on Dec. 30 — a 46% increase from the previous week. But hospital visits and deaths are on the rise in Virginia and nationally, with the U.S. death toll exceeding 1.1 million people since the first case in 2020.
As of Tuesday (Jan. 9), 1,758 people have died from Covid in the Fairfax Health District, which includes the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, according to the latest Virginia Department of Health data.
The district has had 23 COVID-19 deaths in the past 13 weeks — an increase from previous months, but overall, 2023 saw fewer deaths each month than previous years, according to the Fairfax County Health Department.
“The average age of the individuals who have passed due to COVID in the past 13 weeks is 80 years old and a third of these were associated with a long-term care or skilled nursing facility,” an FCHD spokesperson said. “Although COVID deaths are down from previous years, it does remain a threat in our communities and particularly for older populations with comorbidities.”
Now the most prevalent variant in the country, JN.1 appears to spread more efficiently than other forms of the coronavirus, but the vaccines updated last fall are still effective, though only 17.4% of residents have gotten those shots, the county health department said in an update yesterday.
According to the FCHD, Northern Virginia is experiencing a “very high intensity level” of influenza-like illnesses, which make up 6.7% of all emergency department and urgent care visits, led by young kids 4 and under. Inova reinstated a face mask requirement on Jan. 4 in response to the prevalence of respiratory illness.
The county health department says RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infection) activity is decreasing in the Fairfax Health District, but it’s still elevated elsewhere in the country, especially among young kids and older adults.
“If you are at high risk for severe illness from RSV, you should continue to take steps to protect yourself, especially if you are traveling or hosting a visitor,” the FCHD said.
The department is encouraging residents to get vaccinated against Covid and the flu and to take other steps to prevent spreading illness, including wearing a high-quality mask, covering coughs and sneezes and staying home when sick.