COVID-19 levels on the rise but less severe than previous summers

Most of us have let our guard down when it comes to COVID-19, but national health experts are warning that’s actually what your summer cold could be.

Nationally, COVID-19 indicators, including hospital admissions, emergency department visits, test positivity, and wastewater levels, are increasing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, doctors said it's still far less severe than anything the country saw the last few summers.

"At the moment, it's more an anxiety than it is a reality. But it's a real anxiety because it's still a bad disease and there's still plenty of it around," said Dr. Frank Rhame, an infectious diseases physician with Allina Health.

Rhame said COVID-19 activity has picked up slightly in the local wastewater data. Doctors are in a wait-and-see mode to find out if COVID-19 develops the same way other respiratory viruses do. It'll likely become clearer after back-to-school time and people crowd together more. But Dr. Rhame said the current booster protects against strains that were circulating 18 months ago.

"I would say don't get the bivalent booster now, because that might force you to delay getting the new one in the fall, which is going to be the best one to get," he said.

That fall booster will protect against the current strain XBB. XBB is the dominant variant in wastewater entering the local plant, according to the Metropolitan Council. 

"This fall we're going to have three vaccines on hand. We're going to have the COVID vaccine, we're going to have influenza, and we're going to have the RSV vaccine, and exactly for whom they are going to be recommended is not yet decided," Rhame said.

As for whether your summer cold is actually COVID-19 instead, you really can't tell without getting tested.

"You should know what it is because if it's COVID, you really should stay home for the first five days. And then you should wear a mask for the next five days," Rhame said. 

He said getting tested is especially important for those who are around elderly people and those with weakened immune systems.