PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) – When kids go back to school germs usually start to spread, but this year, cases of COVID-19 are already on the rise, both nationally and in Virginia.

The Virginia Department of Health’s COVID-19 dashboard shows the number of people being diagnosed in emergency departments has increased over the last few weeks.

“That gives us an early warning system, if you will, about what’s happening in our communities,” said Virginia Department of Health COVID-19 Unit Lead Heather Harmon-Sloan.

Harmon-Sloan is keeping a close eye on the trends.

“Right now, the hospital admissions we are typically seeing, mostly, are those 70 years of age and older,” she told WAVY.

The good news, health experts say, is there will be three vaccines available this fall to protect against the biggest respiratory threats – an updated COVID-19 shot, the flu shot and two new vaccines against RSV. One RSV shot is for vulnerable infants, the other for at-risk and elderly.

“We are waiting for details for both of those vaccines from the CDC and FDA. We are waiting also to hear who the CDC advises should get the new COVID vaccine and when,” Harmon-Sloan said.

The new COVID-19 vaccine that is expected to be released this fall is important, she said, because it’s targeting the XBB variant which is circulating right now, as well as the new variant that’s starting to increase, EG.5.

Vaccines, however, are just one tool to protect against respiratory diseases. Harmon-Sloan said that it’s important to stay home when you’re sick (at least five days with a COVID diagnosis) and to consider wearing a mask for 10 days if you have been exposed to COVID-19.

Frequent hand washing and coughing and sneezing into the crook of your elbow will also help stop the spread of respiratory diseases.