Increasing COVID Cases and New COVID Policies

As COVID-19 cases begin to rise again safety measures like masking become increasingly important. Photo Credit:

By Hannah Lee

The CDC reports that from September 14 to the 21, 20,538 people were hospitalized for COVID-19, and over 500 died from COVID complications. In an email containing COVID updates sent out on September 11, the CDC reported, “COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths are increasing in the United States but remain relatively low compared to peaks seen last year.”

Due to COVID not being considered a public health emergency as of May 11, the CDC is no longer authorized to collect certain kinds of public health data. This includes rates of test positivity, which affects the information that is presented on their COVID dashboard. Testing nationwide also shows an increase in COVID in wastewater according to Wastewater Scan. This implies that actual COVID rates are higher than reports indicate. The federal government will be providing more free COVID testing kits to citizens, which can be ordered online starting September 25 at

As of September 18, the Washington State Department of Health reports about 51.6 positive clinical tests with COVID per 100,000. As of September 21, the Tacoma-Pierce County Department of Health reports 56.6 cases of COVID per 100,000 people.

As for how the fluctuating COVID realities impact the University of Puget Sound, new guidelines have been put in place for students that have tested positive for COVID. In an email on September 14 to the entire student body sent by Libby Baldwin, Counseling, Health, and Wellness Services’(CWHS) medical director, says, “This year, we have implemented an isolation-in-place model, meaning students with COVID-19 stay in their assigned room.” For students that share a dorm room, an empty room will be available for a student to move into if their roommate tests positive if they so choose. As for why this new strategy has been put in place, Baldwin says, “The state of emergency regarding COVID-19 has ended, and we now have several mitigation strategies for managing the virus.”

In a statement to The Trail, Baldwin and Dr. Kelly Brown, the director of CHWS, explained why COVID policy had changed. “Our COVID policy was established following public health guidance.” Baldwin also noted that Puget Sound is not the only university to have these new policies. “The Isolation-in-place model is being used by many universities as the severity of illness due to COVID-19 decreases.” Baldwin and Brown recommended that immunocompromised students move out of shared dorm rooms if their roommate tested positive for COVID.

Baldwin also sent a separate email on September 15 about the seasonal increase in respiratory illnesses. Baldwin recommended that students purchase basic health equipment like masks and a thermometer and to reach out to CHWS for any health concerns. “You can protect yourself and others by washing your hands, wearing a mask and staying home when you are sick, and informing close contacts so they may take necessary precautions,” Baldwin says.

She recommended getting your flu shot, and advertised a walk-in flu shot clinic that will take place on October 5 at CHWS. CHWS also recommended that students get the new COVID booster, which will help bolster our immune systems as we head into respiratory virus season. Just like flu shots are updated every year, the new COVID boosters have been updated and are a closer match to current variants than the prior boosters or initial vaccines. It has been formulated to protect against an Omicron variant, XBB 1.5, one of the most transmissible strains of COVID. Initial testing is optimistic about the new vaccine providing immunity against new variants for about a year.

Experts urge everybody five years and older to get the booster as soon as possible to reduce chances of people passing it on to those who are more vulnerable to the disease. Check your local pharmacies’ websites to schedule an appointment. There has been no information about a clinic on campus for the updated COVID vaccination.

Brown and Baldwin explained that COVID numbers and statistics are no longer being collected and reported to CHWS, which means that the University’s COVID dashboard can no longer be updated. They said, “If you would like to get a better sense of community spread, the Department of Public Health is still monitoring hospitalizations from all respiratory illnesses.” They urged those who were concerned to check with the Washington State Department of Health’s Respiratory Illness Dashboard for the latest statistics.

One new COVID variant that the WHO has termed a “variant of interest” is the EG.5 variant, also known as ‘Eris’. It is a subvariant of the Omicron COVID variant, and its symptoms are similar to those of Omicron. While scientists say that the health risk of this variant is low, the mutation found on Eris makes it more highly transmissible, which experts predict will help it become more of a dominant strain worldwide. Experts predict that Eris is responsible for the uptick in more recent hospitalizations for COVID complications. Scientists also say that this mutation helps the virus escape antibodies that the immune system developed through prior infections or vaccinations.

Another new variant of interest is BA.2.86, or ‘Pirola’. Pirola is also descended from the Omicron variant, but is from a different branch than Eris. The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center found that the jump from Omicron to Pirola is similar to the jump that the original Coronavirus made to the Omicron variant. Scientists have found that Pirola escapes antibodies even more than Eris does. In early tests, scientists found that Pirola is not as transmissible as Eris is but they are unsure about how Pirola would behave in the real world, and research is still ongoing.

When someone who has already had COVID gets reinfected with the virus again, the chances of developing ‘Long COVID’ climb. The CDC defines Long COVID as “signs, symptoms, and conditions that continue or develop after acute COVID-19 infection.” Scientists still are not sure of the long-term effects of COVID or all the complications that might ensue. Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis found that while vaccination does lower the risk of developing Long COVID, it does not completely eliminate the risk. We are still only three years into the pandemic, and research on Long COVID is ongoing. While COVID may not be a concern for many, to those who are immunocompromised it remains a source of anxiety. With rising COVID cases and less stringent policies being put in place, the immunocompromised community’s anxiety about reinfections that can lead to complications with Long COVID remains pertinent.