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Doctors Have 3 Big Concerns About the Summer COVID Surge

The warmer months could turn into a giant super-spreader event, experts caution.

It appears flying spiders and record-breaking heat aren't the only potential dangers we need to look out for this summer: COVID is back and stronger. A new data update by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports an increase in positive COVID test rates. Meanwhile, emergency room visits and hospitalization rates due to COVID have spiked by 15 and 25 percent, respectively, in recent weeks. As we prepare for summer travel plans and July 4th gatherings, doctors are sharing their biggest concerns about the expected summer COVID surge.

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A major worry about the FLiRT variants is the rate and speed at which they're spreading, explained Robert Hopkins Jr., MD, the medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, in an interview with HuffPost.

The FLiRT variants are made up of three different strains: KP.1.1, KP.2, and KP.3. This family of variants is considered an offshoot of the omicron variant, which took off last winter. More than 50 percent of new infections can be traced to FLiRT variants.

According to the CDC's U.S. epidemic growth forecast map, COVID infections are "growing or likely growing in 39 states." Most of these are coastal states, including California, Oregon, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and more.

In his interview, Hopkins cautioned that the summer COVID surge is starting earlier than expected. "I suspect it's going to increase," said Hopkins. "It seems like we're seeing more and more states showing increased levels of activity."

And while omicron was considered highly contagious at its peak, Hopkins said FLiRT variants are even more transmittable and, therefore, better at evading one's immunity.

"When we look at their molecular profile, some of those mutations potentially could allow the [virus] to escape from previous immunity," noted Hopkins.

University of Michigan epidemiology professor Aubree Gordon also told HuffPost that the FLiRT surge is "predominately [caused] by those changes in the virus that are probably resulting in it being able to better get around preexisting immunity."

Of the three strains, KP.3 is the strongest and accounts for 25 percent of COVID cases, per the CDC. Presently, KP.1.1 and KP.2 are responsible for 7.5 and 22.5 percent of cases, respectively.

RELATED: CDC Recommends 2 Vaccines for Certain Americans in New Updates.

Similar to other strains of the virus, Hopkins said FLiRT patients may experience fever, cough, congestion, sore throat, and body aches. Additionally, there's a chance of losing your taste and/or smell with COVID.

Of course, there's an added concern that more people may get sick because they haven't received the most recent boosters. As of May, only 22 percent of adults had gotten the latest vaccine shot, which became available back in Sept. 2023, per the CDC.

Between high levels of contagiousness and the increase in large gatherings, summer could turn into one giant super-spreader, warned experts.

If you had COVID or received a booster shot in the past four months, Gordon advised waiting until the next vaccine becomes available in the fall. "I'd recommend they delay vaccination just because they're not going to benefit from it too much at this point," she said.

However, those who are immunocompromised or over the age of 65 and have not received the last COVID shot should speak with their doctor about getting the vaccine now.

"Why take a chance with this current surge if we've got something that is going to reduce your severity of illness?" Hopkins told HuffPost.

We offer the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research, and health agencies, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. When it comes to the medication you're taking or any other health questions you have, always consult your healthcare provider directly.

Emily Weaver
Emily is a NYC-based freelance entertainment and lifestyle writer — though, she’ll never pass up the opportunity to talk about women’s health and sports (she thrives during the Olympics). Read more
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