Health experts worry another COVID wave is on the way in the fall

Published 9:00 pm Friday, June 3, 2022

COVID-19 is not going away.

“There’s definitely a chance, a likelihood, that we’re going to have more waves to this pandemic or COVID in general,” said Sue Yost, director/CHS administrator for Freeborn County Public Health. 

She attributed the most recent surge in cases to those who were not vaccinated.

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“The fewer the people that get vaccinated the more likely they are to become ill from COVID and then the more likely that the disease is to mutate and to change into other variants that are harder to fight, and so it will just continue to go on and on,” she said.

Yost said the occurrence of the virus, signified by deaths and hospitalizations, was likely to happen again and said we were currently seeing a small, receding wave.

“Our community transmission level according to the CDC was at a high level and we were seeing higher numbers of cases that were confirmed cases,” she said. “I think we were at about 65 confirmed active cases at the time, and now we’re about in the low 20s again.”

She also predicted the number of cases would increase again, though she did not know when. She was optimistic that with the warmer months ahead and people being outdoors, cases would not rise until the fall.

“I do expect that once people go indoors more again that we will see a significant rise again,” Yost said.

William Morice II, who is chairman of the department of laboratory medicine and pathology at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, agreed.

“There is some concern for another wave of COVID here in the summer, particularly in the southern states actually right now,” Morice said. “There has been an increase in cases both in our region as well as in the northeast in particular.”

He said the trend looked to be slowing down, but said there was potential for another surge here in the fall.

“One of the things that we are learning after omicron … there was hopes that so many people had been infected, and with vaccinations and now many, many Americans vaccinated, that between those two there would be enough immunity to COVID that we wouldn’t see cases increasing for quite some time.”

According to Morice, the omicron variant continues to evolve and can infect people who had the original omicron variant.

He and his team are also learning infection immunity is not as lasting as originally hoped.    

To avoid catching the virus, Yost recommended first getting vaccinated and boosted, and those eligible for a second booster — people over 50 — should get it.

Above all, do not believe life will ever return to exactly what it was pre-pandemic.

“Things change, times change, occurrences change,” Yost said. “We just need to figure out how to develop a new normal, and our new normal is probably such as it is right now. We just go day to day trying to figure out ’should I wear a mask?’     

“‘Should I consider washing my hands more again?’ ‘Should I make sure that I’m social distancing?’ ’Should I go to the big concert that’s gonna have lots of people that’s indoors, or should I consider not going?’”

Morice pointed out that as people developed more immunity to the virus they  were becoming less sick.

“The death rate continues to fall, and even with some of these increases in cases that we’ve seen in our own region, the number of patients needing to be put into the hospital because of COVID itself has fallen proportionately as well,” he said. “So we are getting better at managing it, but we are continuing to see spikes in cases.”

For anyone not wearing a mask, Yost recommended social distancing and using soap and hand sanitizer. Morice also recommended getting N-95 masks as masking was becoming less and less commonplace.

Yost did say now that the number of people vaccinated has increased, people can go about their lives as normal but wanted people to stay vigilant of people not feeling well. She said if you did not feel well and think you have the flu, consider getting tested for COVID. And if you plan to get together with friends or family, consider getting tested.

“I’ve had a lot of people tell me that they thought they had a cold or they thought they had allergies, and I encouraged them to get tested, and it turned out that they actually had COVID,” she said. 

Morice agreed, and said because of at-home testing there wasn’t as clear a picture of dips and peaks in the number of cases.

“There’s probably a number of people who have COVID that never gets reported because they do the test at home, they don’t report it to their provider or their employer, and now we have some sort of a blindspot of people in terms of the number of true COVID cases there are,” he said.

Morice was hopeful that even if the number of cases increased, the number of people needing to be hospitalized would decrease.

Anyone who tests positive should isolate for five days, with the day of the positive test counting as day zero. After isolation, Yost suggested wearing a mask for the next five days.

“We are more in a management stage of the disease, the infection, the illness,” Morice said. “But it’s not going to be completely out of sight, out of mind, because we will see increases in cases.”

At the same time, he said while there will be more cases, the cases will be more manageable.