What’s behind the summer surge of COVID-19?

By The Health News Team | August 22, 2023
Woman doing a COVID-19 test

We love big waves in Southern California but are not at all pleased about the latest to roll through: a wave of new COVID-19 cases. While COVID-related hospitalizations remain low, they are increasing, and experts are warning people to consider returning to some preventive measures in certain situations.

“We’re seeing that the number of people being hospitalized for COVID-19 has gone up by more than 12%,” says Dr. Abisola Olulade, a board-certified family medicine doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group. “This tells us that COVID is spreading, which is, of course, concerning.”

Possibly contributing to the rise in case numbers is a new COVID variant, EG.5, which the World Health Organization has now labeled as a “variant of interest.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports EG.5 is responsible for more than 17% of new cases in the U.S. and is currently the dominant strain in the country. This rise in cases could lead to more hospitalizations, Dr. Olulade emphasizes, so it’s important to curb the spread of infection.

“People are traveling more; they’re indoors more; they’re attending large gatherings, movies and concerts,” Dr. Olulade says. “Additionally, most are no longer masking, and immunity from earlier vaccinations and COVID illness is waning. This is why COVID is likely spreading.”

Avoid getting caught in the COVID wave

According to the CDC, although the hospital admission tally in San Diego County is rated as “low,” and there are no signs the newer variants cause more severe illness, residents are advised to:

  • Stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccines.

  • Improve ventilation in stuffy, indoor locations.

  • Avoid contact with people who have suspected or confirmed COVID-19.

  • Follow recommendations for isolation if you have suspected or confirmed COVID-19.

  • Follow the recommendations for what to do if you are exposed to someone with COVID-19, which include masking, testing and monitoring your symptoms.

  • Talk with your doctor about additional preventive measures if you are at high risk of getting very sick.

“If you plan to travel via airplane or find yourself in a small space with poor ventilation, you might also want to consider wearing a face mask,” Dr. Olulade says. “A quality, well-fitting mask is effective at reducing the risk of respiratory illnesses, such as COVID, flu and RSV.”

If you test positive for COVID-19, your doctor or other health care providers can advise you on available treatments, including Paxlovid, an oral antiviral medication. Paxlovid can reduce the risk of hospitalization and death by 90%. It works best when taken within five days of experiencing symptoms.

Next steps in preventing COVID

As summer cases climb and fall approaches, there are hopes a recently FDA-approved vaccine booster will protect against fall and winter surges like we saw during the pandemic. The new shot will target the variants currently responsible for the majority of new cases and is expected to be available by late September.

While the CDC has yet to determine who will be eligible for the new vaccine booster, it is assumed those who are at greatest risk for severe illness will be among the first. This includes people age 65 and older and those with certain underlying medical conditions, including cancer; chronic kidney, liver or lung disease; heart conditions; and diabetes. Additionally, people who are immunocompromised due to a medical condition or its treatment are eligible to get additional doses of the updated (bivalent) COVID-19 vaccine and should talk with their doctor about the new vaccine once it is available.

“Though we wish it would disappear, COVID is still here, unfortunately,” Dr. Olulade says. "This is why it is so important that everyone gets vaccinated, which can reduce your chance of getting COVID-19, decrease the risk of severe illness and death from it, and reduce the spread of COVID in the community. But don’t forget that you are not considered ‘up to date’ on vaccines until you’ve received an updated booster shot.”

Learn more about COVID-19; get the latest health and wellness news, trends and patient stories from Sharp Health News; and subscribe to our weekly newsletter by clicking the "Sign up" link below.

Get the best of Sharp Health News in your inbox

Our weekly email brings you the latest health tips, recipes and stories.