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Colds and the flu ruin our winters. COVID isn’t nearly as picky—but this could be changing

August 14, 2022, 3:32 PM UTC
People are wearing face masks during the fifth wave of the coronavirus pandemic in Krakow, Poland, Jan. 18.
Beata Zawrzel—NurPhoto/Getty Images

Colds and the flu are classic for ruining our fall and winter celebrations—Thanksgiving gatherings, Hanukkah festivals, Christmas craft fairs, New Years eve celebrations.

COVID-19 isn’t nearly as respectful. 

It’s an equal-opportunity menace, at best, and killer, at worst, that has yet to settle into a pattern of seasonality—and may never do so fully.

COVID infections in the U.S. and elsewhere have peaked in every season, including summer. So “we’ve never had any real break from COVID-19,” Dr. Mark Siedner, an infectious disease specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital and associate professor at Harvard Medical School, told Fortune.

The emergence of new, more infectious variants has prevented the virus from settling into a more traditional seasonal pattern, Dr. Morgan Katz, an infectious disease specialist at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, told Fortune.

The novel virus has led to quarantines and lockdowns over the past two and a half years, upending normal activities and even disrupting the seasonality of viruses like the flu and RSV, as individuals refrained from gathering and worked and attended school remotely, she pointed out.

Both Siedner and Katz agree that COVID will likely become a seasonal virus, worse in the fall and winter.

But “it may take a few years to settle out,” Katz said.

A trend of seasonality may already be in the works. The country’s worst peak occurred when Omicron hit in December 2020 into January 2021, Siedner pointed out, with spring and summer waves tending to be more minor. This summer’s BA.5 wave has been the exception, with near-record levels of COVID in at least some communities, according to wastewater levels.

A continuous cycle of new mutations that are increasingly more immune-evasive and contagious have made it so COVID has “never really gone away,” Siedner said.

“It’s so contagious that unless our immunity protects us better than it does at the current, it’s likely to continue this cycle,” he added.

“We’re all hoping this won’t be the forever future.”

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