JOPLIN, Mo. — Local health officials tell us COVID-19 numbers are back on the rise.

“Respiratory illness season is coming, it’s upon us and so we are preparing. That’s what we do in the health system, we prepare for that,” said Breck Royer, Freeman Health Infection Prevention Coordinator.

And that preparation is as important as ever… with experts pointing to several factors — like back-to-school season and new variants — likely leading to a rise in COVID-19 cases.

“The United States has now seen EG.5 and that is really the predominant strain right now in the United States, so do we have it in our community? Most likely,” said Donna Stokes, Mercy Infection Preventionist.

Infection preventionists with Mercy Hospital in Joplin say they’ve seen an average of five people testing COVID-19 positive, per day — in the past few weeks. That’s much different from this past summer.

“Over the summer we’ve seen sporadic cases of COVID, and we expected that. During the last month, and more specifically the past couple of weeks, we’ve been seeing an upward trend in our number of positive cases,” she adds.

Freeman Health officials didn’t give exact numbers — but also confirmed an increase.

“We are starting to see a bit of a climb, again over the summer numbers were low, single digits, but we are starting to see a bit of a climb and that’s mostly just this month, honestly,” said Royer.

Thankfully, local medical professionals tell us hospitalizations have seen little to no increase whatsoever.

“We’re basically looking at our typical COVID symptoms – fever, symptoms of respiratory illness, cough, sneezy and runny nose, all of those fun things, which we see a lot of this time of year,” said Royer.

And even though we’re seeing a climb in numbers locally — Royer says this is something happening all over the United States.

“What we are seeing here is effectively the same of what we are seeing nationally, the trends are the same. It’s mostly your elderly and immune-compromised, patients that are getting sick, even then it’s typically mild to moderate,” he said.