Does it feel like everyone suddenly has COVID (again)? You're not alone—health experts predict there are far more cases than are being officially reported, due to at-home testing and changes in the way data is being collected. "There's a lot of COVID out there. I see it in my social circles, in my kids' schools and in the hospital employee infection numbers," says Dr. Shira Doron, infectious disease physician and hospital epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center in Boston. "We are clearly in a wave." Here are signs there is a hidden COVID wave where you live, according to experts. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
BA.2.12.1 Is Causing Surge In Cases
The BA.2.12.1 subvariant is causing a spike in cases across the U.S., with experts warning it's up to 27% more contagious than BA.2. "[Cases are] up 27% from a week ago," says Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady. "You can see our positivity is up to 6.2% and continuing to rise. So that's why I'm guessing most of you know somebody who's had COVID pretty recently, or even has it now. There's a lot of COVID around."
Be Aware of Hospitalizations
Because a lot of at-home tests aren't reported into a central database, experts say hospitalization rates and wastewater data are a better gauge of infections in your community. "I do believe we are in a situation where there's more of a surge happening, a larger proportion of which is hidden from the usual sort of sensors that we have to detect them and to appreciate their magnitude," says Denis Nash, an epidemiologist at the City University of New York.
Don't Take Chances—Get Your Boosters
"We know that protection from COVID-19 vaccines wanes, or becomes less protective over time, especially in the Omicron era," says Dr. Rochelle Walensky. "This is one of the reasons vaccine boosters are so important… A dose that may help strengthen their protection against infection, urgent care visits, and especially hospitalization and death. So whether it's your first booster or your second, if you haven't had a vaccine dose since the beginning of December 2021, and you're eligible, now is the time to get one."
Signs of BA.2.12.1
Experts say BA.2.12.1 symptoms mirror those of a cold or flu, with fatigue, headaches and runny nose being commonly reported. "We've been seeing a lot more of sore throat and pharyngitis that we didn't really see before," says Nancy Crum, MD, an infectious disease specialist at Avita Health System in Galion, Ohio. "Patients can also have gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea, and loss of taste or loss of smell, although I've seen that a lot less with the newer variants."
Long COVID Is Worse Than We Thought
Long COVID is another "hidden wave", with studies showing one in five people suffer from long-term ongoing virus symptoms. "As we enter a new phase of the pandemic where many people no longer see COVID-19 as a crisis, it's important to increase awareness of the possible long-term ramifications of contracting the virus," says Logan Sachon, senior managing editor of research at Policygenius. "Long COVID has the potential to last for months or years, and without a safety net like disability insurance, it can be a debilitating event both physically and financially."
How to Stay Safe Out There
Follow the public health fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated or boosted ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don't travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.