It’s time to stock up on tissues, choose your TV shows for a marathon, and get COVID-19 tests. Yes, many signs point to a COVID-19 wave, although it is expected to be much less severe than in previous summers.
Experts suggest that they do not anticipate severe cases or a prolonged surge, and early data from wastewater indicates that this wave might already be stabilizing.
Increase in cases
However, data released this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show many COVID-19 indicators, including hospitalizations, emergency room visits, and test positivity rates, are on the rise again.
Independent commercial laboratories are also noticing the increase.
“When we look at our data, we see that from late June to early July, and probably until now, there has been a slight uptick in cases, based on samples from tests done at pharmacies and in the healthcare system,” says Shishi Luo, Associate Director of Bioinformatics at Helix, a genetic sequencing company that has been assisting the CDC in tracking changes in the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the cause of COVID-19.
30% to 40% increase
Based on the mix of samples received by Helix, Luo states that there has been a 30% to 40% increase in cases since June. However, since the cases were already at a very low level when they started to increase, Luo says that even with this uptick, they are still in relatively low territory compared to previous peaks.
“I see some early signals that we are heading towards another wave. Of course, we don’t know what lies ahead. It is possible that it could dissipate,” says Caitlin Rivers, Assistant Professor at the Department of Environmental Health and Engineering at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University.
Rivers points out that this time it is especially challenging to read the tea leaves because laboratory testing and data collection have been drastically reduced since the U.S. ended the COVID-19 public health emergency in May. She notes that the last time there was so little information on virus spread was in 2020.
“It doesn’t seem to be driven by a new variant, which is encouraging,”Caitlin Rivers
Viral levels stabilize in wastewater As data from testing has become more limited, surveillance of wastewater can offer a more consistent view of transmission trends over time. Data from Biobot Analytics, a biotechnology company partnering with the CDC, shows that the concentration of coronavirus particles in wastewater samples is approximately one-third of what it was around this time last year.
And the amount of virus found in wastewater is growing at a much slower rate than a few weeks ago, suggesting a plateau in transmission, says Newsha Ghaeli, President and Co-Founder of Biobot.
“I wouldn’t say that in all cases, a plateau immediately leads to a decline. But it is typical for declines to occur once a peak is reached,” she said, and that has been the trend in previous summers.Caitlin Rivers
COVID-19 is also not the only possible culprit for this summer’s colds. CDC data suggests that other pathogens that can cause flu-like symptoms or stomach illnesses, such as adenovirus, norovirus, and rotavirus, are circulating at much higher levels this summer than last year.
The CDC is also tracking a series of COVID-19 variants circulating together, all of which seem to be second or third-generation descendants of the recombinant XBB variant, each with slight genetic tweaks that make them slightly fitter and more transmissible.
But these gradual virus adjustments were expected. There has been no sudden evolutionary leap like the Omicron variant, although several experts believe that there is a high possibility of facing another variant like that in the next two years.
Human behavior drives the increase Instead, this increase seems to be driven by human behavior. This summer, more people are traveling, taking them out of their usual social circles, making it easier for the virus to find new hosts when travelers return home with unwelcome guests.
Additionally, record-breaking heat has likely led more people to gather indoors for extended periods in search of air conditioning.
Lastly, immunity has waned. Vaccination rates in the U.S. suggest that most Americans have not received a COVID-19 booster in quite some time, and with cases seemingly so low, the antibody protection from previous infections has probably also decreased.
“It is clear that declining immunity will play a role in all this, and we have seen it over and over again. Even if there is still some protection against death and severe illness, declining immunity could be significant in terms of the number of people who get sick enough to require hospitalization,” said Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease expert who leads the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.
This is the fourth summer in which COVID-19 cases have increased in the United States, and Rivers is fairly convinced that living with the virus this way might be the future.
“I have the feeling that summer and winter will be what we can expect from now on,”Caitlin Rivers
Wear a mask
Tips for Dealing with a Summer Surge Rivers says she does not wear a mask in public because cases are still very low, but she would do so if the numbers increase.
“But if I’m traveling on a plane or riding the subway, I would wear a mask,”Caitlin Rivers
Rapid testing is also still a good idea. Experts say that getting tested when feeling unwell or before attending a crowded event in enclosed spaces can help protect vulnerable people, such as the elderly and immunocompromised.
If you are one of the many Americans who has not yet received the bivalent booster vaccine, now might not be the best time.
Osterholm believes it would be a good idea to wait until the new booster doses targeting the XBB variant come out in September.
“I want to get the new booster,” he said. “I think the evidence is that the protection from the previous bivalent booster has waned over time. So if you get it now, you won’t be able to get the new booster dose that will hopefully come out in the next 60 to 80 days.”
“I could get infected in the meantime. But I really think that vaccine will be much better in terms of long-term protection, so I want to get it as soon as it comes out,”Michael Osterholm
Original source: This information was Initially covered by Cnnespanol.cnn.com and has been translated for our readers.