FLiRT Variant Alert: New York Hospitals Brace for Potential Summer COVID Surge

New York City, NY – The summer wave of COVID-19 infections in New York is showing concerning signs as hospitals report an increase in patients. With an average of 181 emergency room visits for COVID-19 per week in late June and approximately 750 COVID patients hospitalized, these numbers indicate a potential for a more severe wave compared to last year. Last summer saw only 80 visits and 410 hospitalized patients during the same timeframe.

Wastewater surveillance in Monroe, Westchester, and Rockland counties revealed high levels of COVID, reflecting the virus’s prevalence in these communities. However, the detections remained below the highest levels found in parts of Buffalo, New York City, and Long Island. The rise in cases is being driven by a group of sub-variants known as FLiRT, derived from the JN.1 variant, a descendant of omicron.

State data shows the top subvariants in New York last month were KP (40%) and JN.1 (22%). Additionally, the national growth of the LB.1 variant has been observed in New York’s wastewater, indicating a potential for further infections. Despite the current uptick in COVID-19 cases surpassing last summer, it remains below the peak levels experienced in the summer of 2022, where nearly 2,800 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized.

Experts emphasize the cyclical nature of COVID cases, with higher transmission rates during fall and winter. This pattern underscores the reality that COVID is becoming endemic, similar to the seasonal flu, which annually causes thousands of deaths. New Yorkers are advised to continue following CDC recommendations to isolate until 24 hours after fever resolution and overall symptom improvement. This updated guidance replaces the previous suggestion of a minimum five-day isolation period for COVID-19.

As the threat of new variants looms, vigilance in managing the spread of COVID-19 remains crucial. The evolving situation underscores the need for continued public health measures to mitigate the impact of the virus in communities across the state. By staying informed and following guidance from health authorities, individuals can contribute to curbing the spread of COVID-19 and protecting vulnerable populations.