(NEXSTAR) – As more students head back to classrooms, public health officials are keeping a close eye on the rising COVID-19 numbers around the country. The number of people being admitted to the hospital with the virus has been rising week after week, most recently jumping by 21% nationwide.
Will the back-to-school season worsen the summer spike we’re seeing? Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease expert at the University of California, San Francisco, expects the trend to look pretty similar to last year.
“Overall, I would expect cases and hospitalizations to increase – then decrease again before they rise in the late fall and early winter,” Chin-Hong said. “This has been the pattern for the past three years and may be where COVID may settle to: a smaller swell in the summer and a larger increase in cases in the late fall and winter.”
There isn’t anything about school environments in particular that would increase the spread of the virus. Rather, it’s the increased gathering of large groups of people indoors.
“It’s hard to predict [if cases will rise] but likely that as in past years, increased congregation indoors as a result of the weather will result in more cases, and therefore more hospitalizations,” Dr. Anand Parekh, chief medical advisor at the Bipartisan Policy Center, said of the timing of back-to-school.
The newly dominant subvariant EG.5, nicknamed Eris, doesn’t appear to be making things worse than past strains.
“It doesn’t raise an increased level of concern compared to other variants, and it doesn’t seem to be causing more severe disease,” Dr. Thomas Russo, a professor and chief of infectious diseases at the University at Buffalo in New York, told Yahoo Life.
An updated booster designed to target the omicron variant is expected to be released around the end of September, but it’s not yet clear which age groups will be cleared to get it right away.
Even if the new booster is recommended for children, many parents won’t be rushing to get their children vaccinated. According to tracking by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only a small minority of children in the U.S. received the updated booster released last year.
Even when it comes to adults, vaccine uptake was pretty low. About 20% of people 18 and older have received the latest bivalent vaccine.
While COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths are rising, they are nowhere near where they were when the omicron variant first took over. Experts credit widespread prior infections, high vaccination rates among the most vulnerable populations and improved treatment options.