Covid Is Not Over: Understanding The New BA.5 Omicron Strain

The BA.5 variant is now the most dominant strain of COVID-19 in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And while it’s hard to get an exact count — given how many people are taking rapid tests at home — there are indications that both reinfections and hospitalizations are increasing.

More people appear to be contracting the virus multiple times in relatively quick succession, as the BA.5 omicron subvariant sweeps through the U.S. For example: Some 31,000 people across the U.S. are currently hospitalized with the virus, with admissions up 4.5% compared to a week ago.

Data from New York state shows that reinfections started trending upwards again in late June. “Not only is it more infectious, but your prior immunity doesn’t count for as much as it used to,” explains Dr. Bob Wachter, the chair of the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, And that means that the old claim that, ‘I just had COVID a month ago, and so I have COVID immunity superpowers, I’m not going to get it again’ — that no longer holds.”

Is BA.5 more dangerous? So far there is no evidence that this variant causes more serious illness. And infectious disease experts say that even though new infections are on the rise, the impact of BA.5 is unlikely to be on the scale of the surge we saw last winter — in part because the country is better equipped to manage it.

The U.S. is averaging about 300 deaths a day, compared to 3,000 last winter.

What can people do to protect themselves? There are steps you can take to reduce your exposure to the virus, like masking up in crowded indoor spaces. Here’s how to step up your mask game. “An N95 is more protective because it has a better face seal in general than a KN95 or a KF94, N95s are strapped to your head with headbands, which give them a snug fit — and with masks, a tight fit is key to better protection.

In its new guidance, the CDC notes that N95s and other respirators approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) are the most protective options. By contrast, both KF94s and KN95s attach with ear loops, which many people find more comfortable but that don’t seal quite as tightly to your face.

(Source: NPR)