The Perfect Enemy | ‘Tripledemic’ in CT? COVID-19 cases low, but flu, RSV circulate
December 2, 2022
Read Time:3 Minute

When it comes to viral transmission, Connecticut faces good news and bad news this fall.

First, the good news: In recent weeks, the state has seen a decrease in recorded COVID-19 cases, positivity rate and hospitalizations, all of which stand at or near their lowest levels in months, with wastewater surveillance confirming that transmission remains relatively slow. The virus continues to circulate but not nearly at the speed it did previously in the pandemic.

Now, the bad news: As COVID has faded, respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, has surged earlier and more intensely than usual, and flu season appears to have arrived ahead of schedule as well. Meanwhile, experts say COVID could spike again soon, perhaps beginning with next week’s Thanksgiving holiday, leading to what some are calling a “tripledemic.”

“There’s definitely going to be an increase in transmission, for sure,” said Dr. Ulysses Wu, chief epidemiologist at Hartford HealthCare. “Whether it’s just COVID, whether it’s influenza, whether it’s RSV, I think we need to look at it in its totality, those three diseases.”

In a typical year, RSV and flu may arrive in the fall but don’t spread widely until winter. This year, however, RSV slammed Connecticut months ahead of schedule, leading to crisis at the state’s major children’s hospitals. Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has tracked far more flu cases nationwide than is typical at this time of year, with Connecticut among the states currently experiencing “high” transmission.

Though it’s not entirely clear why RSV and flu have surged earlier than usual, experts say it may owe to lack of population immunity against the viruses after two winters of masking and social distancing.

At the same time, COVID-19 has hardly disappeared. According to state data Thursday, Connecticut recorded 2,264 cases over the past week (not counting the likely many more recorded on at-home tests) and had 325 patients hospitalized with the disease. The state reported 31 coronavirus-linked deaths this week, bringing its total to 11,559 during the pandemic.

It hasn’t helped, experts say, that only a fraction of eligible residents have received the latest COVID-19 booster shot, or that flu vaccination rates are lower this year than in previous years.

“Everyone talks about the new normal, and everyone wants to go back to the new normal,” Dr. Tina Tan, vice president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, said Friday. “Vaccines need to be part of that new normal, in order to prevent these individuals from becoming ill with the viruses and the bacteria that are circulating.”

So what does this mean for how Connecticut residents approach Thanksgiving and the rest of the holiday season? Wu acknowledged that most people have abandoned precautions and aren’t anxious to adopt them again but said he doesn’t plan to have a large Thanksgiving gathering and that anyone who does see family should be vigilant about signs of illness. 

Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University, said on a call organized by the Infectious Diseases Society of America that he plans to require everyone at his Thanksgiving table be vaccinated against COVID-19 and the flu and that they take a rapid COVID test the morning of the holiday.

As falls turns to winter, Schaffner said it might be time to “dust off” masks, particularly for those who are moderately or seriously immunocompromised, and to consider social distancing again.

“Rent the movie, rather than go to the movie,” he said.

Tan and Schaffner both predicted the United States is headed for a “tripledemic,” with RSV, flu and COVID circulating in large quantities at the same time, leading to more illness than usual this winter.

Similarly, Wu said he expects COVID and flu numbers to rise together as the weather cools. As three different viruses spread, he said he continues to wear masks in public, even if he’s sometimes the only one.

“I am absolutely a fan of indoor masking still,” Wu said. “It’s just common sense.”

alex.putterman@hearstmediact.com.