As the highly transmissible omicron subvariant BA.2 continues to spread, Covid-19 cases are once again rising across the country—but health experts say that it is not yet a cause for alarm, particularly since the widespread population immunity should protect the country against another large surge.
Covid-19 cases are rising again
According to CDC data, the omicron subvariant BA.2, which has driven recent case surges in Europe and other areas of the world, is now the dominant variant in the United States, making up 72.2% of all new Covid-19 cases in the country as of April 2.
In addition, CDC reported that Covid-19 cases are rising again—the first recorded increase since mid-January during the omicron wave. As of April 6, the United States' seven-day case average was 26,596, a 4.9% increase from the previous week. Some areas of the country, such as New York City and Washington, D.C., have seen larger increases, but the average number of new cases is still much lower than previous surges.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the current rise in cases is concerning, but not surprising given the spread of the highly transmissible omicron subvariant BA.2, as well as a nationwide reduction in public health measures, including masking.
"This is not unexpected — that you’re going to see an uptick when you pull back on the mitigation methods," Fauci said. However, he added that the rise is not yet cause for alarm and officials are monitoring the situation "very, very carefully."
The potential trajectory of the pandemic
According to Fauci, the United States could potentially see a new Covid-19 surge in the fall as colder weather pushes more people to gather indoors. "I would think that we should expect that we are going to see some increase in cases as you get to the colder weather in the fall," he said. "That's the reason why the [FDA] and their advisory committee are meeting right now to plan a strategy, and we at the [NIH] are doing studies now to determine what the best boost would be."
However, Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington, said population immunity built up by vaccination and prior infections will likely protect the United States from another large surge even if cases continue to rise.
"We're going to have some infections here and there, but it's not going to shut down the country," Mokdad said. "Life has to go on. We have to be vaccinated and boosted. We need to protect the vulnerable, but we have to get used to it."
Currently, health officials are not planning to reinstate mask mandates and other pandemic precautions, but they may still be necessary in the future, particularly if hospitalizations surge again and risk overwhelming the health care system.
"We need to remember that living with the virus does not mean forgetting about the virus. It's still out there, it's still causing people to get sick and some people to die," said Josh Michaud, associate director health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation. "If we're not prepared, we could be in a bad situation quickly again."
People should also be prepared to adapt their behavior to changes in the pandemic going forward, particularly as Covid-19 transitions to an endemic disease. According to George Rutherford, an epidemiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, people should assess their own personal risk, which can vary greatly depending on the individual and where they live, to decide if mask wearing or other precautions are necessary.
"[The coronavirus] is not going to be eradicated, and it's not going to be eliminated," Fauci said. "And what's going to happen is that we're going to see that each individual is going to have to make their calculation of the amount of risk that they want to take in going to indoor dinners and in going to functions." (Thomas, CNN, 4/7; Anthes, New York Times, 4/11; Bean, Becker's Hospital Review, 4/8; Prieb, The Hill, 4/8; AP/Modern Healthcare, 4/8; Tayag, The Atlantic, 4/8)