By Stacy M. Brown

Approximately 196 (or 6.1%) of U.S. counties, districts, or territories reported a high COVID-19 community level as of Jan. 19, while 1,010 (31.4%) reported a medium community level.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 2,011 (62.5%) people had a low community level.

This winter, those figures have continued to fall, a significant improvement from the previous two years, when COVID-19 was the leading cause of respiratory disease in the United States.

While the flu, RSV and COVID-19 have strained healthcare systems this fall and winter, CDC officials are optimistic about the decline in coronavirus cases.

“What you’re seeing is a transition to ongoing transmission but much milder infections,” said Dr. Céline Gounder, a senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation, in a newsletter published by the New York Times.

According to health officials, the Omicron XBB.1.5 variant is involved in roughly half of all COVID-19 cases in the United States.

However, a hybrid of two other Omicron sub-variants has grown in popularity, particularly in the northeast.

Nonetheless, the Times’ daily newsletter noted that “a comparable surge has yet to materialize on a comparable timeline this winter.”

“By now, hospitalizations, in particular, would have begun to rise sharply. However, data suggests that there has been more of a COVID bump than a surge, and recent hospitalization figures are much lower than in the past,” the newspaper reported.

More COVID hospitalizations have occurred in the South and Northeast in recent weeks, possibly because of the new Omicron subvariant.

Even so, hospitalization levels are “closer to the summer increase caused by the Delta variant in 2021 than to the following winter surge caused by the Omicron variant,” researchers wrote.

According to the researchers, hospitalization rates in some Western states are among the lowest they have been since the pandemic began.

“After years of winter surges, the absence of one translates to potentially tens of thousands fewer deaths and is worth celebrating,” they wrote.

The worst-case scenario in America has been avoided because people have developed immunity to the virus, the researchers declared.

Much of this is due to vaccines and boosters, but repeated exposure to the virus and infections have also played a role, health officials stated.

“Anecdotally, experts and others continue to report a lot of sickness around them — but no hospitalizations or deaths,” the researchers claim.

“This is the result you would expect to see with COVID in a population with higher levels of immunity: vaccines and previous infections appear to offer strong protection from the virus’s worst outcomes, but they don’t fully prevent infection and milder disease.”

Health officials insisted that the good news does not mean that COVID is now a thing of the past.

Older people and those with weakened immune systems are still at risk. 

More than 90% of Americans who die today are 65 and up.

Hospitalizations are nearly five times higher among Americans aged 70 and up than among all Americans.

“If public health interventions helped tame COVID this winter, then too much relaxation could lead to a surge,” the researchers declared.

According to the researchers, experts do not expect a return to 2020-style lockdowns, masking or testing.

“Their recommendations are less strenuous: get boosters, isolate sick people, and wear masks in indoor public places if the virus is rapidly spreading.”

In addition, medications such as Paxlovid should be available to those who are ill.

“We’ve made strides. We’re ahead of the game. People know what to do,” Saskia Popescu, an epidemiologist at George Mason University, wrote in a statement.

“However, it worries me because people use that progress as an excuse to be less vigilant and less serious.”

This post was originally published on The Washington Informer.