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As COVID cases climb, a new booster is on the way

There have been seven cases of mumps reported in North Carolina.

The virus that causes COVID-19 is circulating more widely across North Carolina, and health experts are again urging people to make plans to get updated vaccine boosters.

Data released Wednesday shows there was an average of 17.3 million COVID-19 particles in sampled wastewater for the week of July 26, the most recent week of data available. That marks the fifth straight week of increase, and the highest weekly average since early April. It's a level four times higher than the low point set in late June.

Hospitalizations with COVID-19 have not increased at a similar rate, an indication that vaccines and immunity from prior infection are — for now — keeping most people from getting badly sick. However, hospitalizations are still increasing. For the week ending July 29, there were an average of 239 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 per day, also the highest daily average since early April.

Some of the increase comes through the seasonality of the virus, says Duke Health infectious disease expert Dr. Cameron Wolfe.

"We've kind of seen a little spike in late July, early August, every single year, consistently, sort of a week or two after July the fourth. And this year seems no different," he said.

It's unclear, Wolfe says, how much of that is due to increased travel and mixing of social circles, and how much to normal cycled of the virus, but that some seasonal fluctuations are to be expected.

Vaccine boosters are available, and the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services says you are due for another dose if your last COVID vaccine was:

  • Two months ago (people with compromised immune systems)
  • Four months ago (people 65 years or older)
  • Before September 2022 (everyone)

The latest booster, known as the "bivalent" shot because it targets both the original strain and the newer omicron variant, is still the most recent booster available, and was first administered about one year ago. A Food and Drug Administration committee voted to update the vaccine for this fall so that it specifically targets the XBB.1.5 subvariant, the dominant strain circulating in the country right now.

Wolfe says that for low-risk people who don't plan travel to areas where the virus is more prevalent, that waiting to get that newest booster will work.

"That's coming pretty soon. I think for the average person, we can actually afford to wait until October and say: 'OK this is a time when COVID and flu boosters both make sense.'"

Jason deBruyn is WUNC's Supervising Editor for Digital News, a position he took in 2024. He has been in the WUNC newsroom since 2016 as a reporter.
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