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COVID-19 activity increases as prevalence of JN.1 variant continues to rise

As the new year takes off, CDC continues to track the rise of JN.1 across the country. An offspring of BA.2.86, JN.1 is now the most widely circulating variant of SARS-CoV-2 in the United States and globally. At this time, there is no evidence that JN.1 causes more severe disease.

As of January 5, 2024, JN.1 is estimated to account for approximately 62% (range 55-68%) of all currently circulating SARS-CoV-2 variants, an increase from the estimated prevalence of 44% (range 39-50%) two weeks ago. CDC is also observing an increase in the prevalence of JN.1 in international travelers and wastewater viral levels, as well as in most regions around the globe.

COVID-19 infection levels in context

COVID-19 activity is currently high. COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths have increased in recent weeks. JN.1 may be intensifying the spread of COVID-19 this winter.

COVID-19 infections are now causing severe disease less frequently than earlier in the pandemic. Infection levels measured using wastewater and test positivity, which capture both symptomatic and asymptomatic infections, are higher than the year before (currently estimated as being ~27% and ~17% higher, respectively). Wastewater viral levels, in particular, have increased rapidly over the last several weeks.

By comparison, measures of COVID-19-related illness requiring medical attention, such as emergency department visit rates, have also increased, but to a lesser extent and remain 21% lower than they were at the same time the year before. Furthermore, the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations are 22% lower than observed the year before, and the percent of total deaths associated with COVID-19 are 38% lower.

This change in the relationship between infection levels and illness severity is related to greater immune protection levels provided by vaccines, prior infection, or both. Over 97% of people have natural or vaccine-induced antibodies against the virus that causes COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2). This immune protection can fade over time but tends to last longer for preventing severe disease than for preventing infections.

It is also important to remember that COVID-19 and the longer-term effects of COVID-19, such as Long COVID, remain important public health threats, especially for people who are at higher risk of severe illness. For additional information on the current status of COVID-19 and other viral respiratory illness in the United States, check out the Respiratory Virus Data Channel Weekly Snapshot.

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Photo by Heather Morse on Unsplash

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