This was the year the word “tripledemic” entered the lexicon. That’s the term for the three different types of illnesses, COVID-19, flu, and RSV, that are affecting people this winter season.
The New York Times looked at the problem last week.
“R.S.V., or respiratory syncytial virus, has made so many young children ill this fall that weekly pediatric hospitalizations for R.S.V. are the highest recorded,” the newspaper said. “Influenza, which normally peaks in February, has driven up hospitalization rates to the highest level for this time of year in more than a decade, surpassing hospitalizations from Covid-19. And while Covid illness is lower than it was the last two Decembers, it, too, is climbing.”
More recently, the same newspaper reported that while RSV appears to have reached its peak, COVID cases are rising and flu continues to be a concern.
“I know people are kind of tired of hearing some of that stuff,” Dr. Peter Graven of Oregon Health & Science University told the Times. “We’re not saying people need to change your life forever. Right now, for the next some number of weeks, we’re in not a great spot.”
There’s also the question of whether people should get back to masking. Some experts, however, have again begun recommending mask usage.
“We have always been fearing that these viruses were going to come back, but then as they came, they came back too fast and too furious,” Dr. Diego Hijano, an infectious disease specialist with St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, told CNBC. “Everyone needs to know that masking really does protect individuals against all three viruses.”
Mask mandates, per the Washington Post, are essentially done in the United States, with a few exceptions, such as the Philadelphia public school system. Politicians, such as New York Mayor Eric Adams, have urged masking without calling for a specific mandate.
“We have seen COVID cases go up. We’ve seen hospitalizations go up. Deaths are just starting to rise,” Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House’s pandemic response coordinator, told the press this week, per Fortune.
Experts speaking to Vox had safety tips for those worried about the tripledemic: Stay home when sick, get vaccinated, and wash your hands, in addition to renewed masking.
“Some of these viruses do aerosolize and fly through the air, but the majority of respiratory viruses are transmitted by what we call droplets, where people cough and sneeze and they land somewhere,” James Conway, a physician at the University of Wisconsin. “And then you touch that space and touch your own face. Wearing a mask is a way of keeping your hands away from your face. Hand hygiene is an extra layer.”
People are also advised to “set boundaries” with friends and family.
“I’ve been sort of pleased with some of the invitations I’ve received for social gatherings where people are saying their expectation is that everybody’s vaccinated,” Dr. Conway told Vox. “Where that would be considered provocative in the past, I think it is becoming a little bit more normalized.”
Meanwhile, the conservative City Journal offered the opposite take: “Ignore the ‘Tripledemic’ Hype.”
“Despite the hype, these three viral diseases are not surging simultaneously. RSV cases and hospitalization rates rose and peaked far earlier this year than normal but have been declining for the past month,” author Joel Zinberg said. “Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths had been down for months, only rising recently to relatively low levels. And the flu season—which typically runs from October to April, peaking in February—is, like RSV, happening much earlier than usual.”
The piece goes on to worry about “the return of pandemic-era controls,” although there doesn’t appear to be much political will to impose anything like that.
Stephen Silver is a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive. He is an award-winning journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.