COVID-19 cases are on the rise again in the United States and around the world. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cases of the virus have been going up since late May and they’re still rising.
The increase in cases coincides with the rise of the BA.5 Omicron variant, which is currently responsible for 78% of COVID cases in the U.S.
Thomas Russo, MD, professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo, told Verywell that while official numbers of COVID cases in the country are elevated, they’re likely still a serious undercount given that most people are now testing themselves at home.
“All the Omicron subvariants are very contagious, but BA.5 is thought to be the most contagious,” Russo said. “It’s also better than previous variants at evading prior immunity.” That combination of traits is what’s “really driving up the case numbers right now.”
With summer in full swing, it’s understandable that you might be feeling discouraged. Is COVID bound to ruin your plans?
As Russo pointed out, even if you think you may not get that sick from COVID, “you should consider if you have an event that you can’t miss if, or if you can’t afford to miss work,” when you’re deciding whether to take a trip or visit with loved ones this summer.
Here’s what experts recommend for staying COVID safe this summer.
The CDC recommends that all Americans ages 6 months and older get a COVID vaccine. Boosters are also recommended for everyone ages 5 and up when they’re eligible. If you’re 50 or older, you can get a second booster dose four months after your previous dose.
While the vaccine does not necessarily prevent people from getting BA.5, Russo noted that it does seem to help keep people from getting very sick and needing to be hospitalized.
Depending on your circumstances, you may need to be even more thoughtful about evaluating the risk of your summer plans.
“If you’ve only gotten two shots of the vaccine but are not yet boosted or you haven’t been vaccinated at all and are high risk for severe disease, you want to be really cautious and avoid indoor venues where you can’t wear a mask at all times,” Russo said.
With face masks no longer required on public transportation and in most buildings, you might not be as consistent about carrying one with you these days. Even if you plan to be outside, experts say it’s a good idea to have a mask on hand just in case you need to pop inside for something.
“At this point, certain areas of the country—the south and west in particular—have more cases than others,” said Russo. “But if you want to lower your risk of getting COVID-19, it’s a good idea to wear a mask in indoor public spaces, regardless of where you live.”
As you’re going about your day-to-day summer activities, it’s important to know how you feel about being in different situations where you might be exposed to COVID.
For example, while BA.5 is highly infectious, Amesh A. Adalja, MD, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told Verywell that outdoor transmission is not common.
That said, it doesn’t mean it’s impossible. According to Russo, there is a chance of getting the virus if you’re in crowded outdoor spaces, like at a concert or festival.
Adalja said that wearing a mask outside “is an action that should be taken based on an individual’s risk tolerance, especially if it is very crowded with little space between people.”
If you’re inside, Russo said that physical distancing from others won’t really do much to lower your risk of getting COVID—even being right next to strangers outside for longer periods could raise your risk of getting infected.
If you can, try to stay six feet away from other people at the beach, parks, and outdoor festivals.
Remember that there are three main ways you catch COVID:
Masking up and keeping your distance from others can help with the first two modes of spread, but the key to number three is having clean hands.
“Handwashing is important as people will touch their nose, touch their mouth, and then their hands and then shake hands,” said Adalja.
Whether you’re going on vacation with another family or hosting friends in your home for an extended visit, Russo recommends having everyone take a rapid test first.
“If you really want to try to be safe, everyone should test before they come,” said Russo. “It’s an additional measure that could help.”
People are no longer required to have a negative COVID test before coming back to the U.S., but different countries still have different regulations about trying to control the spread of the virus.
For example, Russo pointed out that Canada requires anyone entering the country to be vaccinated, and they also need to have an app called ArriveCAN that confirms their status.
To prevent any trip hiccups, Russo recommends that you “know the rules in different countries regarding COVID-19 before you travel.”
Overall, being cautious this summer is the bottom line—whether you’re staying close to home or traveling.
“We’ve been lulled into a sense of complacency but people are still getting infected,” said Russo. “It’s not over.
With the rise of the highly infectious BA.5 variant, COVID is far from being over. That said, taking precautions this summer, like making sure you’re up to date with your vaccines, wearing a mask, and keeping your hands clean can all help keep you safe.
The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.