Making sense of the latest COVID surge

Yet another COVID-19 surge has arrived. Instead of a stretch of predicted decline, cases have risen about 30 percent this month, The New York Times' David Leonhardt reports. And while it's essentially futile to try and predict what's behind these frustrating numbers (a full explanation remains unclear), what's better is to focus on how to think about them, Leondhart says.

Very important to remember is that, for most people, the vaccines are still "remarkably effective" at neutering COVID's disastrous effects, but the "main dividing line" in that sample is age, Leonhardt writies.

For example, in Minnesota the death rate for fully vaccinated people under 50 during the Delta surge was so low that the rate automatically rounded to zero. Washington State saw something similar — in its most recent report, the death rate for fully vaccinated residents under 65 was "too low to be meaningful."

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Weekly COVID hospitalization rates in Minnesota.

(Image credit: The New York Times.)

The same goes for hospitalization rates for vaccinated individuals under 65. In fact, when compared with other common reasons for visiting an emergency room, like vehicle or bicycle crashes, COVID for that group "may present less risk than a car trip to visit relatives this week," says Leonhardt.

Where things get dicier is, of course, with older Americans, particularly those in their 80s and 90s; even after vaccination, COVID "presents a real risk" for them, Leonhardt explains. Consequently, that group will need protected during a surge, meaning their vaccination and also the vaccination of those who might infect them remains key.

With Thanksgiving approaching and cases rising, Leonhardt recommends three pieces of advice to mitigate risk for older relatives. First, insist everyone attending your feast be fully vaccinated if eligible. Two, encourage testing before arrival. And three, when the time comes, "try to put aside your COVID anxiety and enjoy the holiday."

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