Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios
The dreaded twindemic — or even tripledemic — of respiratory viruses is here, but Americans are too COVID-weary to care.
The big picture: Flu in the Southeast and RSV infections in several regions are filling hospital wards and forcing some facilities to cancel elective surgeries and bring back triage tents.
- Although less lethal than COVID-19, viruses pose a major threat to immunocompromised children and adults. And it’s only November, with the threat of new variants of COVID looming as people plan indoor gatherings and firm up holiday travel.
Yes, but: Americans are good at normalizing risk and have been less and less willing to change their personal behavior since the Delta wave of the pandemic.
- The creeping threat of another one the viral outbreak has also been pushed back by elections, economics, war and natural disasters.
- “If you don’t have children and you’re a healthy young adult, it’s going to be hard to convince you to mask up to protect the population as a whole,” said Scott Roberts, an infectious disease specialist at Yale. .
Driving the news: Much of the current attention is on RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, which affects large numbers of children and strained hospitals during weeks.
- Boston Children’s Hospital postponed some elective surgeries to ease the crush, while the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center started using triage tents to handle workloads as he did during the worst of the pandemic.
- Children’s National Hospital in Washington, DC, at one point in October had 18 children waiting for a bed in the pediatric intensive care unit, according to the Washington Post.
During this time, the seasonal flu made its appearance across the southeast, hospitalizing thousands and stressful some emergency services and urgent care centers.
The plot: COVID is actually the least worrisome element of the triple threat right now. Cases are downthe newer variants seem no more deadly than Omicronand there are many treatments and vaccines.
- And yet, COVID remains on track to be the third leading cause of death in the United States this year, behind heart disease and cancer, according to the Peterson-KFF Health System Trackingwhich predicts that 230,000 American lives have been lost to the virus in 2022 through September alone.
Go further: Public health experts say another year of living with the pandemic threat has left many Americans resolute in using their personal experience as a guide. The question is whether they can sort through conditions with similar symptoms – and see beyond themselves.
- “It’s more important than ever not to come to family gatherings if you’re sick, even if you test negative for COVID,” said Courtney Gidengil, pediatric infectious disease physician and RAND office manager. Corp. in Boston. “You could have the flu, you could have RSV and it’s important to think about that.”
- “The way I thought about it three years ago, where everyone’s behavior impacts everyone else’s risk, was appropriate and felt very good during the heat of the pandemic before we had the types of tools we have now,” said Bob Wachter, chair of the department of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. “At this point, I don’t pass moral judgment on people. People are exhausted, they want to get on with their lives.”
The bottom line: Public opinion polls show about 20% of Americans are still worried about the pandemic and public health in general, said Chris Jackson, pollster and senior vice president at Ipsos.
- Reaching the rest to report a new threat will be difficult, due to people’s tendency to withdraw into themselves. “It comes down to a bit of social understanding and trust, which has been fraying for many years,” he said.
- Moreover, he said, “Americans are so tired of being afraid that even when they see [a health threat] their eyes glaze over.”
Tina Reed and Caitlin Owens contributed to this report.