CALIFORNIA — The holiday season may be over, but California’s cough and cold season has yet to peak.

Across the Golden State, wastewater samples show the spread of the coronavirus skyrocketing to start the new year. Even as health officials warn about an increase in the spread of COVID-19, flu deaths are also spiking in California.

In California, 126 people have died from the flu so far this season, according to the latest data from the California Department of Public Health. Of the deaths, 45 were recorded in the week that ended Dec. 30, the most recent reporting period.

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On Monday, San Francisco health officials reported the city’s first death of the flu season. The person, who died last week, was under 65, was not vaccinated and had preexisting health conditions, according to the San Francisco Department of Public Health.
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The majority of the Californians who have died, however, have been people 65 or older, according to data.

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COVID-19, flu and other respiratory illnesses aren’t just on the rise in California. More than half the states in the U.S. reported widespread sickness heading into the New Year.

Overall, 38 states, including California, have high or very high levels of respiratory illness activity, with fever, cough and other symptoms, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The data accounts for sicknesses for the last week of December, and the number is up from 31 states the previous week.

The data includes people with COVID-19, RSV and other respiratory illnesses, but flu cases, especially, have spiked across the country. In fact, flu cases trended up 17.5 percent for the week that ended Dec. 30, according to the CDC. The most frequently reported strain was A(H1N1).

“There’s just this dramatic rise in influenza,” Dr. Caroline Goldzweig, chief medical officer of the Cedars-Sinai Medical Network, told Los Angeles Times.

There have been at least 10 million illnesses, 110,000 hospitalizations, and 6,500 deaths from the flu so far this season, according to CDC estimates. The CDC said 27 children have died, including seven pediatric deaths that were reported the last week of December.

In December, the state reported its first and only pediatric flu death, a child younger than 5 who was pronounced dead at a hospital in the Coachella Valley.

CDC Director Dr. Mandy Cohen expects flu season to peak by the end of January, The Associated Press reported.

Weekly hospitalizations for the flu have increased 35 percent, while hospitalizations for COVID-19 are up 20 percent, according to the CDC.

In California, there were 3,516 new COVID-19 hospital admissions in the week that ended Dec. 30, a 7.4 percent increase from the previous week, according to the CDC.

“The number of COVID-19 patients being treated in our hospitals persists at higher levels than the prior summer and fall months,” said Dr. Anil Keswani, chief medical officer of ambulatory and accountable care at Scripps Health in San Diego. “This corresponds with the higher rates of positive testing results for COVID-19 amongst the general population. However, optimistically, the COVID-19 numbers may have peaked this past week as there is a modest trending downward of cases over the last few days.”

The wastewater viral activity level for COVID-19, however, is very high in California and across the country. That suggests this winter could see the highest number of cases occurring during any given week since the first Omicron wave began in fall 2021, the Los Angeles Times reported.

“Wastewater (sewage) can be tested to detect traces of infectious diseases circulating in a community, even if people don’t have symptoms,” the CDC said. “You can use these data as an early warning that levels of infections may be increasing or decreasing in your community.”

Palo Alto’s wastewater data this past week showed a higher concentration of the virus than ever before, the East Bay Times reported.

“Certainly there’s a lot of COVID circulating,” Dr. Monika Roy, assistant health officer of the Santa Clara Public Health Department, told the East Bay Times. “It’s not unexpected in the winter season, particularly after the holidays.”

A new variant called JN.1 makes up nearly two-thirds of COVID-19 cases in the country, according to a CDC estimate. While it is the fastest-growing strain in the U.S., health officials said there’s no evidence that it causes more severe disease than other recent variants.

“There is a lot of uncertainty about when and how high this current surge will peak,” Lauren Ancel Meyers of the University of Texas, told The Associated Press.

Health officials recommend people protect themselves and their families from sickness by getting updated COVID-19 and flu vaccines, and RSV vaccines for people over 60 years old. Officials also advise people take additional precautions, such as avoiding people who are sick, washing hands and wearing a mask.

“Vaccination remains one of the best ways to protect yourself from these infections, and it’s not too late to get the latest COVID-19 and flu shots which are still available from Scripps Health providers and others,” Keswani told Patch. “Additionally, it’s always a good idea to wash hands often, avoid contact with people who are sick, get tested, and avoid contact with others if you have symptoms.”

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