News, Public Saftey

New BA.5 variant causing most COVID cases now, including reinfections

by Kate Shunney

Most new COVID-19 cases nationwide are tied to the newest BA.5 variant of the virus, according to CDC officials.

Washington County reported 55 new cases of COVID on Friday, July 22.

The BA dominant strain of COVID-19 is what public health workers are calling “highly transmissible” and just different enough from other viral strains that it can slip past immunity from vaccination and previous infections.

In other words, the BA.5 variant is getting around quickly, and can reinfect people who are fully vaccinated, with a vaccine booster and with natural antibodies from a prior case of COVID. Those with antibodies are reporting having a milder case of illness than those who encountered earlier strains before vaccines were available.

Public health workers don’t believe this variant causes more severe respiratory illness that other versions of the virus.

Doctors have said most people in America by now have some “underlying immunity” that helps them fight the virus, either from a vaccine or earlier illness.

Still, doctors believe that even a mild COVID illness carries health risks. Some people will experience what is being called “long-COVID” – including cardiac trouble, shortness of breath, brain fog and general debility. Because of those risks, public health experts are encouraging people to do what they can to keep from getting COVID, even if they think they might be protected from it.

Masks are still recommended in crowded indoor events, in large crowds outside and while traveling.

Those who have a confirmed case of COVID are still being asked to keep away from others for the duration of their symptoms. Ideally, people recovering from COVID will also mask up around others for another five days after they get better, or until they get a negative result on a COVID test.

Cases have not hit the highs from the previous year but are climbing enough that public health planners are on alert for a surge in September.

Currently, all age groups are eligible to receive a COVID vaccine and booster shot at the right time. Anyone over the age of 50 can get a second booster, though health officials are considering dropping the age minimum because immunity appears to wane for individuals three to four months after a shot or infection.