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Are we actually experiencing a COVID spike? Take a look at the data.

Maybe someone sneezed near you on the T. Or your brother’s friend tested positive on a rapid antigen test the same week a colleague was working remotely because of an exposure.

More than three years after coronavirus first swept the nation, it’s natural to use your personal network as an unofficial barometer for the virus levels circulating in the community. And certainly, if you’ve been exposed to someone who has tested positive, you should follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control.

But are we actually experiencing a COVID spike?

While PCR testing at mass-testing sites is no longer the norm, plenty of data remain publicly accessible to determine whether COVID is actually on the upswing. Here’s a look at what the metrics say.



States like Massachusetts are now emphasizing hospitalizations as a key metric in monitoring the state of the pandemic. Nationwide, there has indeed been a small uptick in new hospital admissions from the all-time lows earlier this summer. There were about 12,600 new hospital admissions the week of Aug. 12, according to the CDC, up from the record low of about 6,300 new admissions the week of June 24. Despite the increase, hospitalizations remain low when compared to the past three years.

In Massachusetts, the picture is similar. Following low hospitalization numbers through much of the summer, levels have been increasing throughout August.

Dr. Shira Doron, chief infection control officer for Tufts Medicine, called the change “modest” and said there has not been a significant increase in COVID patients at Tufts.

“We had our first day of zero COVID patients in May, and we’ve been hovering between zero and three since then,” Doron said. “And sometimes those people that come up on our list, they’re not even here because of their COVID.”

And while hospitalizations may be slightly increasing, COVID deaths are at a low point.


“We have this kind of mix of good news and bad news,” Doron added. “Bad news is, there’s a bit of an uptick. Good news is, nationwide, deaths are the lowest they’ve ever been. And we may be seeing a decrease in the proportion of patients in the hospital with severe COVID.”

Waste water

Without widespread PCR testing, waste water monitoring allows for a snapshot of the amount of coronavirus circulating in the community, and the Boston-area waste water data roughly track Massachusetts hospitalization trends. For example, after the state reached 2023 lows in late June, the coronavirus levels have slowly increased through July and early August before dipping back down in recent weeks.

A new variant

The virus that causes COVID-19 is continuing to mutate, and the variant EG.5 has been in the news in recent weeks as hospitalizations across the United States edged up. Below is a look at the estimated proportion of COVID variants circulating in different regions of the United States since January. In our region, the EG.5 variant has hovered between 5 and 15 percent of the total, according to the estimate from the CDC, and no variant is currently dominant.

Christina Prignano can be reached at Follow her @cprignano.