You’re not imagining it: Covid-19 cases are on the rise again.
Fortunately, since a vast majority of Americans have some sort of immunity, either from vaccination or a prior infection, or both, most people who get infected now will have a mild illness.
And while there are multiple strains circulating (nearly all of them descendants of the Omicron XBB variant), they are unlikely to cause the “wildfire spreading” that occurred with the Delta variant and the first Omicron variant, said Dr. David Boulware, a professor of medicine specializing in infectious diseases at the University of Minnesota Medical School. That includes EG.5, which was recently named a “variant under monitoring” by the World Health Organization and currently accounts for about 17 percent of cases in the United States.
“I’m not sure if it’s a surge, per se, or just uptick,” Dr. Boulware said of the current situation. Either way, he added, it’s a reminder “that, yes, Covid still exists.”
Below is a quick refresher on how to navigate an outbreak in your community or home.
Monitoring where and how much the virus is spreading has become significantly more difficult since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stopped tracking cases in May, with the end of the federal public health emergency. However, there are still a few metrics to pay attention to — in addition to anecdotal evidence that people around you are getting sick.
The two best metrics to monitor local infection levels are hospitalization rates and wastewater data, which can both be found on the C.D.C. Covid Data Tracker website. For hospitalization rates, go to the map and select your county. For wastewater data, scroll down to the surveillance map and locate your nearest monitoring site.
Because fewer people tend to have severe cases these days, hospitalization data is less representative of how many people are currently infected. But it can still be useful for measuring trends: Nationwide, about 9,000 people were hospitalized for Covid in the past week, a roughly 12 percent increase over the prior week.
Many experts say that wastewater testing is a more accurate metric for identifying how much virus is circulating in a community. More than 1,300 sewage treatment plants across all 50 states currently monitor levels of the virus, which infected people shed in their stools.
“Wastewater is the only data source we have that gives us early warnings of new outbreaks,” said Aparna Keshaviah, the director of wastewater research at Mathematica, a research consultancy firm. “Hospitalizations and deaths are like these contrails of Covid infections; they show you the aftermath of what’s already happened.”
Covid symptoms haven’t changed much since the start of the pandemic — sore throat, congestion, fatigue, fever and cough remain the most common, said Dr. Paul Sax, the clinical director of the division of infectious diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Some people may also experience gastrointestinal symptoms, and there are reports that the XBB.1.16 strain can cause pink eye.
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