Covid-19 cases are on the rise again in the United States. Even President Biden is infected. But the biggest danger is not the virus—the now-dominant and highly contagious Omicron BA.5 variant—but the risk that public health officials will overreact.
Over the past two months, new Covid cases have risen by roughly 15 percent. Covid hospitalizations have risen even more. But BA.5 does not cause more severe disease than earlier variants. In fact, the percentage of Covid cases leading to bad outcomes appears to be declining.
The hospitalization increase is likely artifactual. The severity of illness among hospitalized Covid patients has been declining since autumn 2021—both intensive-care unit admission and mortality rates have been steadily falling. The likely explanation is that many Covid-positive admissions actually entered the hospital for other reasons before testing positive on routine tests for Covid. In fact, current cases and hospitalizations are still moderate when viewed over the history of the pandemic and are far lower than previous spikes. More importantly, Covid death rates have been relatively flat for the past three months.
But these facts have not kept Los Angeles County from planning to reinstate its indoor mask mandate on July 29.