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Wastewater surveillance shows big spike in COVID infections

COVID-19 infections are way up in San Diego County based on the latest wastewater surveillance data. The most recent data from Dec. 27 show a spike in viral load as high as Jan. 2022, when the omicron surge hit the region. But the number of hospitalizations is nowhere near what they were back then.

Why it matters

UC San Diego Health Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Christopher Longhurst said he expects to see an increase in hospitalizations in the coming weeks.

“What we've seen recently is the greatest increase in COVID virus and wastewater since the omicron surge of a couple of winters ago," Longhurst said. "But of course, these are different variants, and we're not completely sure if this is predicting a larger outbreak or really reflective of the fact that COVID has already gone up.”

By the numbers

In Jan. 2022, the county recorded over 4,200 COVID-19-related hospitalizations. In Dec. 2023 there were about 71 hospitalizations.

“We do have some patients at UCSD Health who are admitted for COVID, but we actually have more patients who are admitted with COVID-19, but for other reasons like pregnancy or trauma,” Longhurst said.

Closer look

Longhurst attributed the current spike in COVID-19 rates to more people gathering for the holidays.

“We just finished the holidays and so this is a normal occurrence every winter. Before COVID we traded other viruses like the Flu and RSV, and in fact, influenza and RSV are also quite high right now. So it's common that people will have the sniffles at the holiday parties and exchange those viruses.,” Longhurst said.

Looking ahead

Some of the reasons for the current low hospitalizations are less severe variants and people’s immunity. But Longhurst says, that could change.

“If you're at high risk because you're elderly, your immune system is compromised, getting treatment for cancer or others, we certainly would recommend precautions, including getting the latest booster."