Another Covid summer may be upon us, as the CDC reports signs of a late-summer wave across the country, including in the Washington, DC-area. Experts say the amount of coronavirus particles in wastewater, as well as positive virus cases and hospitalizations, started increasing in July after several months of steady declines.
But this summer is looking to be far less severe than previous surges. Positive cases in the Washington metropolitan area and surrounding states only increased 0.6 percent for the week ending July 22 from the previous week. Hospitalizations jumped 6.4 percent, 18.2 percent, and 0.8 percent in DC, Maryland, and Virginia, respectively. The surge is strongest in the Virginia and Maryland counties that border the District. “It’s definitely a smaller increase than we saw in the past two summers since we have a lot more individuals who have either been exposed to Covid in the past or vaccinated,” says Anne Monroe, an associate professor of epidemiology at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health. Plus, a significant portion of the people who are getting infected aren’t showing symptoms.
Still, our natural and vaccine-induced immunity may not be enough to fight off newer variants, such as the XBB group, which is responsible for most new Covid infections in the region, especially when less than a third of the population in each locale has gotten the bivalent booster shot. “The antibodies that most Americans have from either being infected previously or vaccinated are not very potent in neutralizing this variant or keeping it from spreading,” says Georgetown University infectious disease physician and former FDA chief scientist Jesse Goodman. But he adds that new boosters and our own cellular immunity makes it unlikely that we will see the same severity of infection and symptoms as we did earlier in the pandemic.
Monroe and Goodman, along with other experts, also speculate that as variants of the coronavirus arise, we will continue to experience small waves of infection for the next few years, with peak cases occurring in the summer, late fall, and early winter. “When you move into a situation where disease becomes endemic, there’s cycles,” Monroe says. “But this is something that we will continue to deal with as a health concern for our population.”