As we bask in the warmth of summer, an unseen wave is surging across the United States. Despite the scarcity of available data, the evidence is clear: COVID-19 infections are on the rise. This increase began even before mid-May, when the national COVID emergency response was terminated.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have been tracking levels of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater, an indirect indicator of community-level spread. Over the month of June, there was a more than 60 percent rise in wastewater levels of the virus. However, in the last two weeks of July, there has been a concerning drop in the number of sites reporting these figures, causing a corresponding decrease in the reported SARS-CoV-2 levels.
This isn't the first time we've seen such a phenomenon. A similar drop occurred in late December 2022, amid a winter surge of infections. The CDC attributed this to the holiday season, but this explanation raises more questions than it answers.
The current epicenters for the summer 2023 COVID surge are in the Northeast and South. The heatwave and air pollution from the Canadian forest fires have driven people indoors, potentially contributing to the rise in cases. In California, Los Angeles has reported a rise in COVID cases, suggesting the summer COVID wave is just beginning in the second largest US city.
The reliance on wastewater surveillance by the CDC underscores the reality that such indicators lack real-time value and provide little clinical guidance to direct local public health authorities and health systems. As data scientist JWeiland noted, the current wastewater SARS-CoV-2 levels correspond to an estimated daily infection rate of more than 310,000.
Long COVID, the lingering effects after a COVID infection, is already the third leading cause of neurological disorders. In children, these effects can include neurocognitive complaints like loss of smell, fatigue, and brain fog. These findings have been repeated internationally and will have long-lasting consequences.
Despite the alarming data, there seems to be no urgency on the part of the Biden administration to address the situation. Instead, the focus is on maintaining the illusion that the national public health edifice is functioning to protect the population.
As we navigate this ongoing pandemic, it's crucial to stay informed and vigilant. The summer surge is a stark reminder that COVID-19 is far from over, and we must continue to prioritize public health and safety.