BA.5 Covid: How could it affect Clay County?

By Nick Blank nick@claytodayonline.com
Posted 7/27/22

CLAY COUNTY – The dominant strain of the COVID virus has been Omicron since the year began.

The strain is highly contagious, though significantly less deadly than the Delta variant that struck …

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BA.5 Covid: How could it affect Clay County?

Posted

CLAY COUNTY – The dominant strain of the COVID virus has been Omicron since the year began.

The strain is highly contagious, though significantly less deadly than the Delta variant that struck last summer. Omicron has evolved into a subvariant called BA.5 and cases across the country are spiking, with President Joe Biden contracting a case last week.

The county had 760 cases July 8-14, the Florida Department of Health’s bi-monthly COVID numbers show. The Department of Health did not respond to questions about the BA.5 strain sent by the Clay Today.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Clay County is currently under the high community transmission level classification.

These are the recommendations from the CDC when a county has a high level of transmission:

• Wear a mask indoors in public and on public transportation.

• Receive the COVID-19 vaccine and boosters, and get tested if you have symptoms.

• If you are at high risk for severe illness, consider taking additional safety precautions.

The University of Florida’s Dr. J. Glenn Morris is the first and only chair of the Emerging Pathogens Institute, which was founded about 15 years ago. He outlined the history of the virus, and steps to avoid contracting it and spreading it to others.

The adaptable COVID-19 virus is making its way down the Greek alphabet at a fast pace. Omicron itself has evolved five times, hence the “5” in BA.5. BA.1 was discovered in February. Morris said the virus is steadily refining itself.

“What we’ve seen are these several major shifts in terms of the virus. The virus is constantly changing. What we’re seeing is the appearance of subvariants. In other words, Omicron is there, but we’re not seeing these big leaps,” Morris said. “ … It gets better and better at what it does.”

BA.5 is the dominant strain and Morris estimated it’s close to 80% of U.S. cases. Due to inconsistent testing and reporting, it’s difficult to gauge how many people have it, he said.

COVID-19 vaccines are available at the Department of Health’s Orange Park clinical location, 3229 Bear Run Blvd. Call 529-2800 for more information about appointments. The COVID-19 vaccine and booster are not as effective as they used to be, Morris said, which leads to a person’s second or third time contracting COVID.

“BA.5 is able to bypass chunks of the immune system that generally would have protected people who were previously vaccinated,” Morris said.

BA.5 has mild symptoms such as fever, coughing, sore throat or fatigue and isn’t a “killer” like the Delta variant was, he added, because Omicron doesn’t heavily involve the lungs. He said less than 5% of Omicron patients are on ventilators.

“The good news is, while it’s highly contagious and everybody’s getting it, we are not seeing the really bad illnesses we had back with Delta,” Morris said. “There’s always a ‘but.’ We still have people dying and it’s interesting BA.5 seems in particular tends to hit older folks.”

Morris said people are fatigued from the virus but the seriousness is still there, especially with people who are elderly or who have underlying health issues. COVID’s long term impacts on the body and brain are still being studied.

A vaccine and booster are a good place to start, Morris said. He also recommended high quality KN95 masks in tight spaces indoors and discouraged people from seeing masks as a political statement.

Paxlovid is an over-the-counter antiviral pill that must be taken within five days after symptoms begin. Morris said the pill is effective, though a person should consult a doctor first.

After more than two years working against and studying the virus, Morris said epidemiologists are still wary of predicting the future.

“I think the future probably does include new variants,” Morris said. “I could envision a time when people who were at higher risk would just routinely take precautions like wearing a high-quality mask when they went into a setting where there’s a high risk of transmission.”

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