NewsYour Health MattersAsk Dr. Nandi

COVID-19 cases on the rise this summer due to new variants

The US reported 50,000 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, a new record
Posted at 5:54 PM, Jul 01, 2024

(WXYZ) — Summer has brought a fresh wave of COVID-19 infections. Case levels have been rising for weeks due to new variants, leading to increased emergency department visits and deaths.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID-19 data tracker, emergency department visits have risen by 23.3% and deaths have increased by 14.3% in the most recent week.

Data from the sewage tracking system WastewaterSCAN shows that this summer's COVID-19 wave started earlier than last year and has now reached levels similar to last summer’s peak.

Since the virus loves warm, humid weather, it’s spreading the most in the Western and Southern parts of the U.S. right now. In fact, viral levels in the West are as high as they were back in February.

Now, the increase in cases is likely due to a family of variants descended from the JN.1 variant, nicknamed FliRT. This name refers to where these variants changed amino acids.

Their mutations help them dodge the body’s immune response and spread more easily. According to CDC data, two of these variants, KP.3 and KP.2, now make up more than half of new COVID-19 infections in the U.S.

Initially, the Food and Drug Administration approved a plan to update the COVID-19 shots to be more effective against the JN.1 lineage but later advised manufacturers to target the KP.2 strain as it gained more ground.

The new vaccines are expected to be ready sometime in mid-August to late September. Once available, the CDC recommends that people 6 months and older get the updated COVID-19 vaccine for the 2024-25 season.

That’s because as research shows, vaccine effectiveness does wane over time. And even though COVID-19 is always circulating at some level, getting vaccinated in the fall offers the best protection for most people during the colder months when we tend to see higher and longer peaks of infections.

As for the summer peak, COVID-19 can still surprise us since it’s known to be unpredictable. So, we'll have to wait and see if cases continue to rise or level off. To lower your chances of getting sick, the CDC advises staying up to date on vaccinations, washing your hands well and staying home if you feel sick. Wearing a mask is also smart.

Though no mask is perfect, studies show that high-quality masks can filter out particles, lowering your risk of catching COVID-19 because it’s reducing how much virus you might breathe in around you.