Parent putting a mask on a child. Back to school concept during COVID-19 pandemic.
Credit: Volurol / Shutterstock

The new school year is starting next week and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is tracking an increasing number of new COVID cases nationally and in Connecticut. 

Last week, hospital admissions related to COVID rose to 118, a jump from 103 the previous week and significantly higher than the 66 recorded in the entire month of July, as reported by the state Department of Public Health. While this surge doesn’t mirror the rapid growth observed in the pandemic’s early stages, officials have noted that it’s crucial to monitor, especially considering the school season’s onset.

The emergence of new cases is linked to a novel strain called “Eris” or “EG.5”. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believes that this strain accounts for approximately 21% of cases across the country, surpassing the previous year’s XBB “Kraken” variant.

Dr. Ulysses Wu, chief epidemiologist at Hartford Healthcare said the new variant is not being widely detected. 

“But it may have the ability to cause more breakthrough infections for those who have been vaccinated or had previous infections.  But it is still too early to tell at this time,” Wu added. The increase comes as the state Department of Public Health has stopped tracking and reporting test results. DPH issued a COVID-19 report on June 1 and won’t release its next one until Oct. 5. 

DPH also said those reports will continue through the winter and “include data that are relevant to current COVID-19 disease activity and trends and integrate COVID-19 with viral respiratory surveillance reporting, including influenza.” 

Reports from show a slight uptick in the number of cases being detected through the system. Samples are collected every day at New Haven’s WasteWater Treatment Facility, which serves 200,000 people in the cities of New Haven, Hamden, East Haven, and part of Woodbridge.

Earlier this month, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal called for funding for testing.

Health insurers are no longer required to cover the cost of over-the-counter COVID tests, and some federally-qualified health centers have stopped providing free testing in order to free up money for other uses. 

“The resurgence of COVID-19 in our country demands swift action and collaborative efforts,” said Nichelle Mullins, Charter Oak Health Center president and CEO. 

She also said the health center, which is required to send testing results to the federal government, saw the positivity rate climb from 13% in June to 18% in July.

Broadly speaking, COVID-19 health guidelines remain consistent. It’s still advisable to wear N95 masks if you’re unwell or have a compromised immune system. In schools and public spaces, enhancing filtration and air circulation can aid in curbing the transmission of respiratory diseases. If you’re feeling unwell, it’s best to stay at home if circumstances allow.

If you start exhibiting symptoms similar to the flu at this time, it’s more likely to be COVID-19 rather than the flu. It’s crucial to get tested and pursue the appropriate care. Paxlovid remains effective against the latest COVID-19 strain.