The AtlanticThe Atlantic

One more COVID summer?

By Katherine J. Wu

29 Jul 2023 · 5 min read

informed Summary

  1. Three and a half years into the COVID-19 pandemic, the virus is still not showing a predictable seasonal pattern, with signs of a potential fourth summer wave emerging.

Since the pandemic’s earliest days, epidemiologists have been waiting for the coronavirus to finally snap out of its pan-season spree. No more spring waves like the first to hit the United States in 2020, no more mid-year surges like the one that turned Hot Vax Summer on its head. Eventually, or so the hope went, SARS-CoV-2 would adhere to the same calendar that many other airway pathogens stick to, at least in temperate parts of the globe: a heavy winter peak, then a summer on sabbatical.

But three and a half years into the outbreak, the coronavirus is still stubbornly refusing to take the warmest months off. Some public-health experts are now worried that, after a relatively quiet stretch, the virus is kick-starting yet another summer wave. In the southern and northeastern United States, concentrations of the coronavirus in wastewater have been slowly ticking up for several weeks, with the Midwest and West now following suit; test-positivity rates, emergency-department diagnoses of COVID-19, and COVID hospitalizations are also on the rise. The absolute numbers are still small, and they may stay that way. But these are the clear and early signs of a brewing mid-year wave, says Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University—which would make this the fourth summer in a row with a distinct coronavirus bump.

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