Will California Have a Summer Covid Surge?

There’s a new Covid variant in town.

The variant, called KP.2, is steadily overtaking what had been the dominant Covid variant for most of the year in the United States, raising the possibility of a summer surge in cases in California and across the nation.

It wouldn’t be particularly surprising. Covid has never stopped circulating in our communities, and every year since 2020 there has been a surge in cases in the winter and again in the summer.

So far in 2024, the rate of Covid spread has been relatively low. Most of us now have several layers of immunity against the virus through vaccines, past infections or both, so if we are infected again, the risk of serious illness is much lower than it once was. On April 2, for the first time since the pandemic began, California enjoyed a day without a single reported death from Covid, the Bay Area News Group reported.

That said, an important warning sign — the level of Covid detected in wastewater — has been increasing in the U.S. since mid-May, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, though it’s still considered minimal. The biggest jump has been in the West, where California has the highest wastewater levels, the data shows.

The percentage of people testing positive for the virus in PCR tests has also been rising in California since early this month, state data shows.

“The writing is on the wall in terms of a small uptick,” Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco, told me. “I think it will continue to swell a bit, but it’ll probably be lower than last year.”

Tracking the spread of Covid is harder than it used to be, in large part because most people who take tests now do so at home, and their results aren’t reported. That makes it difficult to accurately compare new surges with the ones that occurred earlier in the pandemic.

Chin-Hong said that the recent trend in the data was quite likely the start of a summer surge, and that the new dominant variant might be better at infecting people and evading our defenses than previous ones. He recommended that people 65 and older get another Covid vaccination if they haven’t done so recently.

He told me that he had treated a handful of patients hospitalized with Covid in the past few weeks who were either over 65 or immunocompromised. “The common theme with all of them was that they didn’t get the vaccine in the last year,” he said.

A notorious surfboard thief, Otter 841, was spotted at Steamer Lane in Santa Cruz by a surfer, The Mercury News reports.

Karl Anderle, the surfer, has seen this particular otter several times over the past few years and noticed her sitting on the back of his board, poised to chew it. Otter 841 was born in a U.C. Santa Cruz research center and was later released into the wild, gaining notoriety when a photographer captured her on video about a year ago.

The 6-year-old otter’s aggressive behavior has led to unsuccessful attempts by wildlife authorities to apprehend her. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it was handling reports of the otter’s encounters with surfers and kayakers in Santa Cruz.

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword.

Halina Bennet, Briana Scalia and Lauren Hard contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at CAtoday@nytimes.com.

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