Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that a summer surge of COVID-19 is still going strong and hospitalizations on the rise. As a variety of new strains circulate, including EG.5, the dominant variant in the U.S. also known as Eris, it’s an opportune time to catch up on the latest expert advice for navigating the current outbreak.
We spoke with Paul Sax, clinical director of the division of infectious diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, about the recent surge in infections and what the public needs to know to stay safe. Here’s what he told AARP.
1. The latest surge is relatively mild
Here’s the good news: Although every summer has brought a spike in cases since COVID-19 appeared, this is a moderate surge and not nearly as bad as the delta summer surge of 2021. The reason: Most of the cases have been mild. “There are exceptions, of course, but the disease severity on a per-case basis is much lower than it used to be,” Sax says.
2. COVID doesn’t have a season
Flu season typically hits in fall and winter and subsides in spring and summer. The coronavirus hasn’t settled into that pattern, at least not yet. Whereas influenza cases are rare in the summer, coronavirus cases don’t seem to ebb and flow as much with the seasons. “Whether this is going to be the case forever, or whether we’re going to have more seasonality with COVID going away completely in the summer is unknown,” Sax says.
3. Summer heat waves may fuel infections
Experts say influenza spreads in winter because people tend to spend more time indoors to get out of the cold. But people also don’t want to be outside when scorching temps rise into the 90s and above. Air-conditioned restaurants, gyms, bars and places of worship are great escapes from the heat, but they also can be COVID breeding grounds.
4. Older COVID tests can detect current strains
Older COVID tests will work on current strains, as long as the tests haven’t expired. In some cases, the Food and Drug Administration has extended the expiration date, so check this FDA list of authorized tests to find out. Sax says if you do use an expired test, they are more likely to show that you don’t have COVID when you do. “If you test positive on a test that’s expired, it’s probably correct,” he says, although “you should try to use tests that are not past their expiration date.”
He adds that home tests are still not as sensitive as polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests. So if you are having symptoms and you test negative on the first day, go ahead and take a second test on day two. “Sometimes it takes a few days for the test to turn positive.” If you’re still not sure and are having symptoms, get a PCR test at a pharmacy or clinic.