Covid Update: Infection Inflection

While many of us had mild symptoms associated with COVID-19 infections in the past 2 months, data for hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID suggest that serious illness has been less common than in prior years.


Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 are declining in San Diego and California, and the death toll is lower than expected but not yet declining as of February 1st. There were 24 deaths due to COVID in San Diego County during the first two weeks of January. The number of cases in California during the mid-winter peak has declined each year since 2020. To put this in perspective, COVID-19 has resulted in 106,401 deaths in California from 01/01/2020 to 01/27/2024, while influenza has resulted in 2,100 deaths over the same period, according to the California Department of Public Health. The majority of deaths due to both viruses were in individuals over 60 years of age.


Were we lucky this winter, or could the current COVID virus JN.1 variant be weaker than earlier viruses? The more than 30 new mutations in the virus spike protein that is essential for infection appear to increase transmission, but not disease severity. Our immune systems should be better able to cope with the JN.1 variant if we received the latest vaccine booster last fall, but earlier vaccines or past infections do not appear to provide protection against this variant. It is thus plausible that the cost of increased transmission to the virus is a loss in disease-causing capacity. 


Unfortunately, there are many potential virus variants that are likely to arise in the future, and they may not behave like JN.1. As they say in the investment world, past performance is no guarantee of future results. We need to pay close attention to the COVID virus as it continues to evolve and be prepared if a more deadly variant appears. Yes, I think we were lucky this winter.