COVID-19 Levels Reach High in Western U.S., Nationwide Surge Uncertain

A key indicator for tracking the spread of COVID-19 has officially reached “high” levels across western U.S. states, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, the agency indicates it is too early to confirm whether a nationwide summer surge has begun.

Data through June 27 show rising levels of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in wastewater samples across most parts of the country. Health authorities increasingly rely on wastewater analysis to monitor COVID-19 trends as case testing and reporting have decreased. The CDC also uses data from emergency rooms and hospitals to track the virus.

Nationwide, the virus levels in wastewater remain “low,” according to the CDC. However, recent weeks’ preliminary figures show “high” virus levels in western states.

“Summer is back, and we are about to have the summer bump of COVID cases. We have a bump in the summer, it goes down in the fall and rises more in the winter,” Dr. William Schaffner, professor at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, told CBS News. Despite this, the CDC has not confirmed the onset of this year’s summer surge.

“During April and May 2024, COVID-19 activity was lower than at any time since the start of the pandemic. Recent increases need to be considered from that baseline,” the CDC stated on Friday.

Historically, summer has seen increases in COVID-19 levels following a spring decline, though the timing has varied. Last year’s summer surge peaked in late August or early September.

“While there are indications for a potential summer surge, nationally COVID-19 activity remains low. CDC will continue to monitor if these recent increases persist,” the agency added.

COVID Trends Highest in Hawaii

Among western states, Hawaii has seen some of the worst COVID-19 trends, with wastewater levels higher than last winter’s peak. Emergency room visits in Hawaii have also reached some of the highest levels in over a year, surpassing last summer and winter peaks.

Recent data suggest these trends might be stabilizing. CDC forecasters announced last week that COVID-19 cases in Hawaii are “likely declining” after weeks of increases. Emergency room visits from Hawaii to Arizona appear to be plateauing, below the peaks of last year’s summer and winter waves.

LB.1 Variant Rises in the East

The increases in COVID-19 levels have coincided with the rise of a new variant, LB.1, on the East Coast. LB.1, a descendant of the JN.1 variant from last winter’s wave, accounted for 30.9% of cases in the New York and New Jersey region by early June. In contrast, less than 1 in 10 cases in western states were from LB.1 during the same period. report from Ground News.

COVID-19 trends in emergency room data from the New York and New Jersey area have risen but remain far below last winter or summer peaks. In wastewater, the Northeast’s virus trends are among the lowest of any region and are still considered “minimal” by the CDC.