The White House calls on people to exercise renewed caution about COVID-19 as a new dominant omicron strain sweeps the country.
They emphasize the importance of getting booster shots for everyone eligible and wearing masks indoors.
This variant appears to be more infectious, bypassing any underlying immunity you may have.
The New Variant
There are actually two new omicron variants, BA.4 and BA.5.
They are both offshoots of the omicron strain responsible for nearly all of the viruses in the U.S.
These variants are even more contagious than their predecessors.
White House doctors are stressing the importance of getting boosters, even if you have recently been infected.
The country’s most dominant strain of COVID right now is the BA.5 subvariant.
This variant accounts for over half of all current COVID infections.
Its rapid increase is accompanied by an uptick in hospitalizations, reinfections, and deaths.
Many Americans are currently under-vaccinated and aren’t up to date on their COVID-19 vaccines.
Staying up to speed on your COVID- 19 vaccine protects you from severe outcomes.
BA.5 is more infectious, and your prior immunity doesn’t count for as much as it used to.
That means that even if you had COVID a month ago, you no longer have the immunity to reinfection that you once had.
No one has “immunity superpowers” against this variant.
Cases And Reinfections Are On The Rise
It’s hard to tell how many people are getting infected with so many people using rapid tests at home and not getting tested.
But a good indicator that we are seeing a surge of infections is that hospitalizations are rising.
Approximately 31,000 people across the U.S. are currently being hospitalized with the virus, with admissions up 4.5%.
New York state has data that shows reinfections started rising again in late June.
Is B.A.5 More Dangerous?
Currently, no evidence shows that the BA.5 variant causes more severe illness.
Most infectious disease experts say the impact of BA.5 is not likely comparable to the surge we saw last winter.
That’s partly because the country is better equipped to manage the infections.
Right now the U.S. is averaging about 300 deaths a day.
Last winter, we were seeing 3,000 deaths every day.
Now the combination of prior infections and vaccinations is still protective, and COVID-19 treatments are better for treating these breakthrough infections.
Are There Long-Term Consequences If I Am Reinfected?
Studies have found that people who get sick multiple times from COVID may be more likely to develop long-COVID symptoms.
Clinical epidemiologist, Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly at Washington University in St. Louis, examined thousands of cases of reinfection and identified a variety of issues in the months that followed.
People had certain respiratory conditions, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, and brain fog.
They also had other conditions, including metabolic disease, cardiac disease, kidney disease, and diabetes.
Experts are concluding that reinfection contributes to additional risk.
So even if you’re vaccinated, you should do your best to avoid reinfection.
How Can I Protect Myself From The New Variant?
Fortunately, you can take steps to reduce your exposure to the virus.
There are a lot of infections of BA.5 out there, so you need to take these steps to reduce your exposure.
First, even if it seems unfashionable or unpopular to mask up in a crowded, indoor space, doing so will protect you from the variant.
Continue to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds and use hand sanitizer when you can’t wash them.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth, especially after touching other surfaces.
Public health experts are encouraging children under the age of 5 who have recently been eligible for a vaccine to get vaccinated.
Adults 50 and older, and everyone over 12 with certain underlying conditions, can now get a second booster shot.
New booster shots targeting omicron could roll out as soon as this fall.
These boosters will be essential in preventing severe illness and deaths.
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