Washington, D.C. wastewater surveillance reports and increasing hospitalization rates since late June this year suggest an increase in COVID-19 cases in the District throughout the summer, potentially extending into the early fall.
Axios reported a 29% increase in D.C.’s hospitalization rate between June and July of this year. This figure is higher than the 17% average increase nationwide, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Biobot, a contractor hired by the district to monitor levels of SARS-CoV-2 in public wastewater, reported an uptick in the concentration of the EG.5 variant in its findings between June and mid-August. The EG.5 strain so far has not caused more severe infections, but early observations indicate that it has a higher transmission rate than its predecessor, the XBB family.
The United States is also seeing a nationwide increase in cases of the EG.5 variant, especially in the Northeast and Midwest regions whose EG.5 cases make up 13.2% and 13.7% of their totals, respectively.
Dr. Ranit Mishori (MED ’02), chief public health officer at Georgetown, shared the university’s available resources to decrease COVID-19 cases as the campus navigates its fourth academic year since the start of the pandemic. Mishori’s office directed The Hoya to Georgetown’s online Coronavirus resource center.
The concentration of COVID-19 detected in the District’s wastewater has more than tripled since the start of the summer. These are some of the highest rates of COVID-19 detected since the Omicron subvariants swept through D.C. in late March 2023.
Wastewater surveillance is only part of the COVID-19 data collection researchers use; it reflects how widespread the virus is in a community but does not reflect the number of people who know they currently have the virus.
The university began a wastewater sampling protocol in September 2022 to estimate cases and later shifted from One Medical nasal swabs to PCR saliva testing in kiosks. Nevertheless, some students feel that university public health guidance has waived with the new semester. Georgetown student Lexi Olsen (CAS ’25) wrote to The Hoya highlighting confusion among students over current testing procedures.
Olsen said that the decrease in COVID-19 restrictions has been accompanied by a crackdown on classroom absence for other illnesses. She said that the rigidness of some attendance policies leaves little room for students to take preventative care of their mental and physical health.
“I know for a student like me, especially with other health needs, I might be trying to conserve that one absence knowing that I might feel worn down or sort of forcibly in need of a break just for my own reasons,” Olsen wrote. “I would feel like I had to go to class if I felt that I was at all able to.”
Olsen said she hopes that the resurgence in COVID-19 cases will allow professors to remember that students may continue to need flexibility.
“I have seen some really great flexibility when one of my professors wasn’t feeling well,” Olsen wrote. “Using Zoom still let us engage with the content and with the professor while making sure that no one else had to get sick.”
Amid the rise in detected cases, public health officials urge eligible individuals to receive COVID-19 boosters as they are made available. A new booster against the XBB variants is predicted to be released in early September to combat the variant family that has been dominant in COVID-19 cases during the first half of the year. While the vaccine was not initially designed to target the EG.5 variant specifically, research suggests that the vaccine will still offer added protection.
“Boosters are an extremely important, easy, and effective way to ensure our immune systems are prepped to handle infection,” Alex Du (SFS ’25) wrote to The Hoya. “With the new variants and recent mini-waves around the U.S., I see no reason not to get another booster once the FDA clears them.”
Du, a science, technology and international affairs major, says he feels that the spike events are now a part of the college experience in a post-pandemic world.
“The reality is that we live in a new normal, with different variants rapidly emerging, and recently we’ve seen a major uptick in not only COVID-19 infections but also hospitalizations due to symptoms or complications,” Du wrote.