With COVID rising in CT, experts question seasonality of virus

Photo of Jordan Nathaniel Fenster
A new COVID-19 testing site is in place at Mathews Park, in Norwalk, Conn. April 18, 2022.

A new COVID-19 testing site is in place at Mathews Park, in Norwalk, Conn. April 18, 2022.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

With COVID-19 rates in Connecticut rising steadily, some experts are questioning whether it is seasonality of the virus or other factors at play.

One year ago, on May 10, 2021, COVID-related hospitalizations were about where they are right now.

At the time, there were 280 people fighting COVID infections in Connecticut hospitals, according to state data, about on par with hospitalizations now. The state said Tuesday there were 316 patients in Connecticut hospitals with a COVID infection.

That 280 from last year, however, represented a continuing decrease in hospitalizations. A week earlier, on May 3, 2021, there were 343 COVID hospitalizations in the state. A week later, on May 17, 2021, the number was down to 170.

This year, COVID is apparently on the rise. On Monday, the state said there were 276 hospitalizations, 80 fewer than were reported on Tuesday.

COVID-19 cases are also rising. The state said Tuesday that 8,741 additional COVID cases had been identified over the previous seven days out of 70,577 reported tests. The seven-day positivity rate of 12.39 percent was the highest it has been since the winter.

“The numbers haven’t been spiking, but they certainly have been rising,” said Dr. Ulysses Wu, chief epidemiologist at Hartford HealthCare. He called it a “Jersey Shore wave” as opposed to a “Hawaiian Pacific Coast wave.”

Pedro Mendes, a disease modeler at the University of Connecticut, said he does not believe seasonality is an important factor in the spread of the coronavirus, but rather it comes down to more infectious variants and a lack of mitigation efforts.

“I don’t think seasonality plays a big role with this virus,” he wrote in an email. “I think what we are seeing is a combination of less protection (almost no one is wearing masks these days) and the B.2.12.1 variant of omicron.”

BA.2.12.1 is one of two dominant coronavirus strains in Connecticut, comprising as much as 23 percent of the total samples tested, according to Yale researcher Nathan Grubaugh. BA.2 is the more dominant variant, comprising the majority of tested samples.

Wu said he believes seasonality still is a factor to consider.

“We should expect a spike toward the end of fall, end of October, early November,” he said, but that variants will play a larger role. “Variants will always undo seasonality.”

Like Mendes, Wu believes social behavior is also an important aspect. He said people are demonstrating a “binary approach to COVID: It either doesn’t exist or it completely exists,” with most people acting as though it does not exist.

“People don’t care. They’ve stopped caring a while ago,” Wu said. “Once all the mask mandates went away, that’s when they stopped caring. The social behaviors have all gone away. People are living life like normal.”

Wu said he does not expect the latest wave to smooth out in the near future. Connecticut residents should expect COVID-19 numbers to remain high, he said.

“I don’t anticipate them going down for a long time,” he said. “At the earliest, end of May, early June.”