COVID is bouncing back this summer. Here’s what to know

 Travelers at Los Angeles International Airport
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)
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Good morning. It’s Tuesday, June 25. Here’s what you need to know to start your day.

Summer COVID spike in California is fueled by FLiRT variants

Summer just started, but California’s not-too-surprising seasonal COVID bump is already going strong, driven by the more transmissible FLiRT variants.

KP.2, KP.3 and KP.1.1 — given the acronym FLiRT based on the amino acid changes that led to the strains’ mutations — account for an estimated 63% of infections, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s up from about 20% in late April.

Coronavirus levels found in California’s wastewater have risen sharply since early May and stand notably higher than the rest of the U.S. The average number of cases reported in Los Angeles County shot to 154 per day for the most recent seven-day reporting period, up about 27% from the previous week. But those figures are an undercount since they don’t include at-home tests (or the people who catch COVID but don’t test at all).


“Taken together, the data point to a coronavirus resurgence in the Golden State,” The Times’ Rong-Gong Lin II reported this week. “One that, while not wholly unexpected given the trends seen in previous pandemic-era summers, has arrived earlier and is being driven by even more transmissible strains than those previously seen.”

More people in L.A. County hospitals are testing positive for COVID, though deaths are keeping stable at fewer than one per a day, on average.

California is one of 15 states with high or very high coronavirus levels in sewage, according to the CDC. Just four days into summer, state levels are already nearing last summer’s peak.

Health officials say it won’t be a shock to see more COVID cases this summer, as seen in previous summers. More traveling, more gatherings on weekends and holidays and more congregating inside to escape the heat increase the chance of catching the increasingly infectious virus.

So how much worse could it get? That’s still TBD, Lin noted.

“Doctors have said that by the Fourth of July, we may have a better feel for how the rest of the season will play out,” he wrote.


As for fall vaccines, the mRNA-based versions produced by Pfizer and Moderna should be designed against the KP.2 variant, though Novavax’s protein-based vaccine will target its parent, JN.1.

Because the FLiRT subvariants are more easily transmitted, doctors advise those at higher risk for severe COVID-19 infections to take precautions. Those include:

  • Staying up to date on COVID vaccinations
  • Avoiding sick people, some of whom might not know if they have COVID or a cold
  • Masking up in crowded settings
  • Taking Paxlovid (which for many should be easier to get now) if infected

The strongest risk factor for severe COVID-19 continues to be age, according to the CDC. People with certain underlying medical conditions — including asthma, cancer, diabetes and serious heart conditions — are also at heightened risk.

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And finally ... a great photo

Show us your favorite place in California! We’re running low on submissions. Send us photos that scream California and we may feature them in an edition of Essential California.

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Have a great day, from the Essential California team

Ryan Fonseca, reporter
Kevinisha Walker, multiplatform editor and Saturday reporter
Christian Orozco, assistant editor
Stephanie Chavez, deputy metro editor
Karim Doumar, head of newsletters

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