Doctors see rise in COVID cases as the BA.5 variant spreads

The CDC estimates the BA.5 variant caused 78 percent of infections in the U.S. last week
BA.5 has become the dominant strain of COVID-19 across the country and Virginia.
Published: Jul. 20, 2022 at 5:49 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 20, 2022 at 6:01 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - As COVID-19 cases continue to climb across the country and Virginia, doctors say BA.5, a subvariant of Omicron, has led to this recent rise.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates the BA.5 variant caused 78 percent of infections in the U.S in the last week. The latest data from the Virginia Department of Health also shows the BA.5 variant as the dominant strain, accounting for more than 40 percent of infections in the last three weeks.

“This is the new wave, the new surge,” said Dr. Gonzalo Bearman, chief of infectious disease at VCU Health. “It’s troubling on a couple of fronts. Obviously, we’re getting more individuals in the community infected, which results in more hospitalizations. We have not seen a significant increase in deaths, which is a good thing.”

Bearman also said this specific mutation of the virus also leads to reinfections.

“When you’re looking at reinfections, it’s typically at least three months. Typically six months after the initial infection, that’s the most common scenario,” Dr. Bearman said.

This results from a mutation Dr. Bearman said allows the virus to evade your immunity.

“Whether that immune response is from prior infection or from having the vaccine or having the vaccine and prior infection, this one allows the virus to evade that a little bit,” he told NBC12. “So with that, you get more transmission.”

VCU Health also adds the variant may also be able to latch itself on better or more often to respiratory cells that cause infections.

“Nothing to suggest that this is less severe or more severe,” Dr. Bearman said. “What we’re seeing is it’s just highly transmissible under a lot of cases.”

These high rates of COVID-19 transmission are reflected in the CDC’s latest COVID-19 transmission map. The latest map on the CDC’s website shows Richmond and surrounding counties under “high community levels” for COVID transmission.

The latest data from the CDC shows "high community levels" of COVID transmission in Richmond...
The latest data from the CDC shows "high community levels" of COVID transmission in Richmond and many surrounding counties.(Source;CDC | CDC)

Over the next four to six weeks, Dr. Bearman expects cases to continue to climb. In the long run, he also anticipates more variations of the virus and new developments with COVID-19 vaccines to target them.

“I think it’s also reasonable to expect that there will be changes in the way we deliver or develop the vaccines, so that the new wave of COVID vaccines will probably be different than the original ones to address some of the more recent variants,” he said.

In light of the latest surge, Dr. Bearman urges people to get their COVID-19 vaccines and booster if they’re eligible. This also includes those who are currently eligible to get a second booster.

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