Think We're Done With COVID? It's Not Done With Us

Illness is more manageable now, but late-summer wave shows our 'new normal' will include the virus
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 29, 2023 9:25 AM CDT
As School Year Kicks Off, a 'Rude Reminder' From COVID
A sign announcing a face mask requirement is displayed at a hospital in Buffalo Grove, Illinois, on Jan. 13.   (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

If you're seeing a sudden uptick in people around you contracting COVID, more than three years after the start of the pandemic, and more than three months after the pandemic public health emergency was declared over, you're not imagining it. Per the New York Times, there's been an increase in COVID hospitalizations—they jumped 24% in the two weeks ending Aug. 12, per the CDC—with recent outbreaks being reported in preschools, camps, and offices. Public health officials say the increase is still relatively small compared to those seen in previous years, and those who do come down with COVID for the most part are experiencing relatively mild symptoms akin to a cold or the flu. "But," the paper warns, "for Americans who have become accustomed to feeling that the nation has moved beyond COVID, the current wave could be a rude reminder that the emerging New Normal is not a world without the virus." More on the latest coronavirus evolution:

  • Various variants: Experts are tying the current spike in cases to the EG.5.1, aka "Eris," variant, which descends from omicron (more on that here), per WVIT. But they're also keeping their eye on the emerging BA.2.86, aka "pirola," variant that has so far been linked to only a dozen people or so. "What's troubling about this variant, scientists say, is that it contains more than 30 mutations on the spike protein, which is what helps the virus enter cells and cause an infection," notes the Wall Street Journal. "This means it might be able to evade current vaccines and previous infections more easily, and it likely won't be a great match with the fall booster expected to be approved soon."

  • A debunking: The AP fact-checks a claim that the CDC has said that vaccinated individuals are at a higher risk of being infected by the new BA.2.86 variant than the unvaccinated. (Long story short: That's false.)
  • Word from Fauci: The former head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases sits down for a "wide-ranging" chat with the BBC on COVID, noting that "it's not going to be the tsunami of cases that we've seen." Still, Fauci urges Americans to get the next booster shot when it's rolled out.
  • And that rollout will be... Likely sometime in September, per the AP, which notes that Pfizer, Moderna, and Novovax are all currently working on a next-gen booster for the fall that specifically tackles the XBB.1.5 variant. President Biden has also pledged that he'll request more funding from Congress for continued vaccine development.
  • Moving forward: Writing for Slate, Shannon Palus asks the question: "Are we finally at the point where we, in our day-to-day lives, can think about COVID like the flu?" She notes the complications of making such a comparison, including that COVID's death rate for hospitalized patients is still almost twice as high as that for hospitalized flu patients, and that the flu season is more contained than COVID's. Still, COVID "doesn't have to change your whole life" as it did in previous years, Palus writes. Instead, she suggests keeping tabs on COVID and all contagious illnesses, resting and minimizing the spread no matter what sickness you might contract: "We'd do well to stop considering [COVID] so special."
(More COVID-19 stories.)

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