'Barbenheimer' Screenings May Increase Cases of COVID-19

The CDC has reported a jump in COVID-19 hospitalizations for the first time this year. Some experts fear the "Barbenheimer" movie theatre rush could lead to more cases.

For the week ending on July 15, the CDC announced a 10.3% increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations. A total of 7,109 Americas were admitted, versus 6,444 the week before.

The CDC has not revealed COVID-19 hospitalizations for the week ending July 22 due to a two-week lag in reporting. Avid Twitter (X) commentator and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine, Peter Hoetz, Ph.D., expressed caution in a Tweet over movie theatre visitors eying a seat for Barbie or Oppenheimer.

So far, the two blockbusters have been successes. On the opening weekend from July 21 to 23, Barbie earned $155 million, becoming the highest box-office opening of 2023. Meanwhile, Oppenheimer garnered a not-so-shabby $82.4 million. The "Barbenheimer" opening weekend is set to become the fourth-highest-grossing weekend in history.

While hospitalizations have increased, there is no way to know the amount of COVID-19 cases. Due to the end of the Public Health Emergency on May 11, the number of COVID-19 cases is no longer tracked by the CDC. The agency currently tracks COVID-19 deaths, hospitalizations, emergency room visits, and genomic surveillance.

The small bump in COVID-19 hospitalizations is a far cry from last year. In July 2022, more than 40,000 Americans required hospital care due to COVID-19. The CDC says no states are currently reporting medium or high hospital admissions due to the slight COVID-19 summer wave.

COVID-19 symptoms and prevention

Most symptoms go away after a period of two weeks, while in some cases, specific symptoms may linger. The CDC notes individuals who are older, immunocompromised, and have certain disabilities or pre-existing conditions are at risk for serious illness. According to the CDC, a total of 1,135,919 have died from COVID-19 in the U.S.

Symptoms of COVID-19 include:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Some individuals may acquire long COVID following a virus infection. The CDC says long COVID is more prevalent in individuals who have had a serious battle with the disease. Symptoms of post-COVID can linger from weeks to years and can vary depending on the person. People with pre-existing conditions, no COVID-19 vaccination, and individuals experiencing multisystem inflammatory syndrome are more likely to acquire long COVID.

The CDC notes that N-95 masks provide more efficient protection than cloth or surgical masks. Respirators like N-95 masks filter out particles, including the COVID-19 virus. Social distancing is encouraged in compact settings to limit virus exposure for high-risk individuals.

The CDC encourages all Americans to get their most updated COVID-19 vaccine to prevent illness. Updated "bivalent" booster vaccines protect against the original COVID-19 virus and Omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5. On June 15, an FDA advisory committee recommended COVID-19 vaccines be updated to protect against the XBB.1.5 Omicron variant by the fall of 2023.

Those who have had COVID-19 symptoms or tested positive without effects should refrain for three months from their next COVID-19 vaccine, the CDC says. Reinfection is less likely to occur after COVID-19 infection. However, individuals at high risk for COVID-19 infection are encouraged to receive an updated vaccine sooner rather than later.

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