Covid Variant Eris Sparks Summer Surge and Mask Mandate Debate


A surge in Covid-19 cases is gripping parts of the United States, resulting in a 39 percent increase in hospitalizations since the end of July. This alarming spike is primarily driven by the emergence of the latest dominant Covid variant, EG.5, affectionately dubbed “Eris,” a subvariant of the Omicron strain. Eris, which first surfaced in the US in April, harbors a mutation that allows it to elude antibodies generated by prior infections or vaccinations. However, reassuringly, Eris appears to induce no greater severity of illness than previous strains and remains responsive to treatment medications. This upswing in cases has triggered renewed debates as several schools and healthcare entities reintroduce mask mandates. Vaccine developers are also striving to develop and test a new Covid booster tailored specifically to target the Omicron variant, offering hope for curbing the spread of this new subvariant and preventing severe illness.

Key Points

  • Should mask mandates be reinstated?
  • Insight into EG.5, the dominant Covid subvariant in the US
  • Recognizing Eris symptoms, which resemble those of a cold or allergies
  • The surge may be larger than reported
  • Vaccination efforts to address the new variant

Rising Cases and Mask Mandate Controversy

According to data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), positive Covid cases have risen by 14.9 percent in just the past week. However, health officials assert that this figure likely underestimates the true extent of transmission. Officially tracked data relies on positive Covid tests administered by healthcare professionals and reported to state authorities. Individuals who suspect they are infected or perform self-tests at home without reporting are not counted as official cases. Janet Hamilton, the executive director of the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists, cautions that elevated surveillance data suggests a more significant increase in cases than official records indicate, urging vigilance.

Eris Symptoms Resemble a Cold or Allergies

Symptoms associated with the Eris variant closely mimic those observed with Omicron, often resembling a cold or allergies. In an initial assessment, the World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that, while Eris appears to spread rapidly, it has not been linked to heightened disease severity. Commonly reported symptoms include a sore throat, cough, congestion, and runny nose, mirroring upper respiratory infections. Dr. Kristina K. Bryant, a pediatric infectious disease specialist, notes that some individuals have even mistaken these symptoms for allergies.

Debate Over Mask Mandates

The recent surge in Covid cases has rekindled the debate over the necessity of reinstating mask mandates. Several schools and companies, including Morris Brown College in Atlanta, Lionsgate headquarters in Los Angeles, Kaiser Permanente across all California locations, and numerous New York hospitals, have already reintroduced mask mandates. Employees and visitors to these establishments are now required to wear masks upon entry. While some health experts like Dr. David Dowdy from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health believe there is no cause for alarm, others express concerns. UC San Francisco infectious diseases expert, Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, advises against abandoning masks altogether, particularly in settings like public transit and airports.

White House Response and Vaccination Plans

During a recent White House Press Briefing, Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre acknowledged the recent uptick in Covid cases, deeming it unsurprising given similar trends observed in the past three summers. Jean-Pierre emphasized that while infections are rising, overall hospital admissions remain low. The White House intends to encourage Americans to get vaccinated once the new booster shots targeting the variant become available. More information regarding the booster rollout will be shared as it progresses, with plans to begin in mid-September.

Emergence of Highly Mutated Variant

In addition to Eris, a new highly mutated coronavirus variant, BA.2.86, has emerged and been detected in Switzerland and South Africa, raising concerns of a potential Covid-19 case surge. This offshoot of the Omicron variant contains over 35 mutations in critical portions of the virus, differentiating it from XBB.1.5, the dominant variant earlier in the year. The World Health Organization (WHO) has begun monitoring this strain after limited cases were identified in Israel, Denmark, Britain, and the US. BA.2.86 was first identified in Denmark in July and has since been detected in other symptomatic patients, airport screening, and wastewater samples in various countries.

China’s Approach and Impact on Covid

A recent study conducted by the federally-funded Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle has linked China’s abrupt decision to lift its stringent Covid-19 restrictions with nearly two million excess deaths in just two months. The “zero-Covid” strategy, which encompassed strict lockdowns and mass testing, was discontinued in December, leading to a surge in excess deaths across mainland China.

Covid-19 and ‘Succession’ Star

In a related development, “Succession” star Brian Cox has contracted Covid-19 for a second time, forcing him to withdraw from an event. Cox expressed his disappointment at missing the event and affirmed his commitment to future participation.

Covid-Detecting Dogs and Long Covid

Research has shown that dogs can detect Covid-19 infections more rapidly and accurately than PCR tests. Additionally, new research suggests that “long Covid” symptoms, including “brain fog,” may persist for years, affecting memory, attention, reasoning, and processing speed.

Roll-out of Flu and Covid Vaccines

The roll-out of flu and Covid-19 vaccines for the autumn season has been expedited due to concerns over the new BA.2.86 coronavirus variant. Vaccinations are scheduled to commence on September 11 in England, with priority given to adult care home residents, individuals aged 65 and over, and healthcare staff. The annual flu vaccine will also be administered concurrently to these groups.

Monitoring the BA.2.86 Variant

Health officials are closely monitoring the BA.2.86 variant, which contains an unusually high number of mutations compared to typical strains. Cases of this variant have been detected in multiple countries, raising concerns of a potential summer surge in infections.


As the Covid-19 landscape continues to evolve with the emergence of new variants and rising cases, public health officials, healthcare providers, and the general public must remain vigilant and adapt to changing circumstances. The ongoing debate over mask mandates and the development of targeted booster shots highlight the need for continued research and efforts to combat the virus’s spread.

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