The Washington Post

It’s a pandemic summer

Open the windows, get boosted and, yes, wear a mask.

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PRESIDENT BIDEN tested positive for the coronaviru­s — and so have millions more. A full-on coronaviru­s wave is sweeping across the United States and much of the world, driven by the BA.5 subvariant, which hardly registered in April. This does not call for panic — the president appears to have mild symptoms — but it is a reminder to be cautious, especially indoors with crowds. Your face mask is your friend, and your booster is your life jacket. It is that kind of summer.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that models show the BA.5 subvariant and its cousin, BA.4, both more transmissi­ble and better at immune escape than the earlier omicron variants, now comprise about 90 percent of the cases in the United States. Their explosive growth in the past 21/ months — from zero to preva

2 lence — is testament to the power of mutations that make them more adept at entering human cells and escaping antibodies. It’s still not clear whether the new subvariant­s will cause more severe disease, but infections are undeniably on the rise.

The seven-day U. S. average of daily new cases reported to the CDC is now 125,827, or five times higher than what it was in March. So many home rapid tests are being done these days, the real total is probably seven times more. Using the CDC’S measure of community risk — based largely on hospitaliz­ation admissions and intensive care unit beds — 61 percent of the U. S. population lives in counties that are now at high levels, nearly double that of two weeks earlier. There is a lot of virus circulatin­g. By now, reaching for that face mask ought to be second nature for indoor locations with a lot of people — where the virus can hang in the air and spread. Goodqualit­y face masks are plentiful and cheap. No one likes them, but now is not the time to abandon their use.

Los Angeles is considerin­g bringing back a mask mandate for indoor spaces on July 29 if the community levels remain high, as measured by the CDC. Likewise, a number of national parks, including Denali, Grand Canyon and Yellowston­e, all recently reinstated indoor masking requiremen­ts. Mandates are hard to enforce these days amid public fatigue and weariness, but if the government doesn’t mandate a mask, it still makes good sense to protect yourself — and everyone around you.

Far too few have gotten booster shots that are widely available and free. Less than half the eligible population (over 5 years old) has a dose of the first booster, according to the CDC, and less than a third of those eligible (over 50 years old) has the second. Summer brings one significan­t break — fresh air. Good ventilatio­n and filtration have proved to be an excellent tool to fight viral transmissi­on. Throw open the windows. It’s human nature to wish for better times. But the pandemic reality is still with us. The best and safest kind of normal is to be vigilant about the reality of virus levels, and use the available tools to mitigate them.

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