COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are rising across much of the country, leading many to worry that there’s another COVID surge on the horizon.
This is all happening as kids go back to school, too. In pockets of the country, some buildings have already had to close down. A school in Kentucky closed less than two weeks into the academic year after one-fifth of its students contracted COVID, strep or the flu.
But here in the D.C. region, doctors say there’s reason to be hopeful that this “surge” won’t be nearly as bad as what we’ve seen in the past, and they’re urging people not to panic, as long as they’re careful and cautious.
“We declared that the pandemic was over, that the public health emergency was over, but we knew we were going to have times of spikes and surges,” said Dr. Mona Gahunia, an infectious disease physician with Kaiser Permanente.
Gahunia said two main factors are driving the recent spike.
“One is all the summer travel and activities, and people bringing back the virus from places around the country and world,” she said. “The other factor is waning immunity … It’s been a while since many people either got vaccinated, or had the virus themselves, so both types of immunity are waning.”
Gahunia said new COVID variants you might have heard about recently, such as XBB.1.5, EG.5, FL.1.5.1, and BA.2.86, are all similar to the omicron variant most are familiar with.
That’s actually good news.
“Because they’re still of the same lineage, their genetic makeup is very similar,” she said. “Omicron is less severe than, say, delta was.”
She also said that means the most recent booster shots geared toward omicron will still be effective at helping people fight the virus.
“It’s likely we will have additional surges around the holidays when people are gathering indoors,” Gahunia said.
She said other fall or wintertime infections that can impact the respiratory system, such as RSV and influenza, could also compound infections.
Gahunia’s best advice: “Keeping our immune systems healthy with proper sleep, nutrition, managing stress levels, hand hygiene and getting your flu shot.”
But most importantly: Stay home if you’re sick.
“That’s one of the best ways to prevent unnecessary spread, particularly to those who may be more susceptible,” she said.
The doctor also recommended getting another booster this fall for extra protection, just like you would a flu shot. While it might not prevent you from catching COVID, she said it will likely prevent you from becoming more seriously ill.
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