COVID on the rise for 5th summer due to new mutations, travel, extreme heat

Covid-19 turned out to be one unique virus.

“I, myself, at the very beginning, did not think that this would be such a mutating virus,” said Todd Ellerin, MD, infectious diseases director at South Shore Hospital in Weymouth. “It’s really one of the most amazing things about Covid. It mutates so fast that it’s difficult even for the regulators to figure out which types to put into the vaccine.”

Those mutations have enabled the virus to infect and reinfect even the most vaccinated individuals. And they’ve also enabled Covid to thumb its nose at the notion of seasonality.

“Most of the viruses we know, especially the respiratory viruses, are seasonal,” said Ellerin. “So Covid is one of the really unique ones that’s able to spread significantly over the summer. We’re seeing summer peaks and winter peaks consistently now.”

And evidence suggests the summer wave of 2024 is well underway. The CDC reports Massachusetts, at the end of June, was one of only a handful of states posting High or Very High levels of wastewater Covid. The others: Maryland, Florida, Arkansas, Missouri, Washington, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. Becker’s Hospital Review quoted CDC data from late June showing Massachusetts and New Hampshire as the only New England states posting significant increases in Emergency Department visits related to Covid.

Most of those who visit the ER for suspected Covid wind up getting diagnosed with something else. But in summer, there are ample opportunities for infection with the virus.

Shaun MacAuliffe, Hopkinton’s health director, said travel is a prime route of exposure -- but even staying home is not without risk.

“With the extreme heat we’re seeing, people staying inside and congregating, there’s a greater risk of exposure.” he said.

The latest Covid booster shots should be available sometime next month -- and the CDC recommends the shots for all Americans six months and older. If last year’s vaccination rate is any indication, most will not heed that recommendation. Fewer than a third of eligible Americans received 2023′s updated booster.

“There’s no question you want to avoid Covid, if possible,” Ellerin said. “At the milder end you have long Covid -- and I say milder with quotations around it. I have lots of patients that have severe fatigue, debilitating chest pain, hair loss. A lot of things that could be prevented if they didn’t get Covid in the first place.”

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