As BA.5 sweeps across Arizona, COVID-19 is making a comeback
Arizona’s rate of COVID-19 infection has been steadily climbing back up as the variant sweeping Arizona and the nation is able to sneak past immune defenses and is highly transmissible.
Last winter, Arizona was hit with a massive surge in cases as the omicron COVID-19 variant swept the nation. This new subvariant of Omicron, referred to as BA.5, is now considered one of the most transmissible versions of the virus to date.
Data currently shows Arizona reaching infection rates not seen since the winter surge. As of July 11, Arizona was reporting 277 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 residents weekly.
Still, experts say things are better now than they were even late last year.
“We are in a far better place than we were at the start of the pandemic,” Richard J. Webby, PhD, an expert in influenza and a member of the Infectious Diseases Department at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the World Health Organization’s Vaccine Composition Team said about the current uptick of new cases.
Nearly three-quarters of Arizona’s population is vaccinated against the virus and 2.1 million Arizonans have gotten the virus since the start of the pandemic. Webby said that having a large percentage of the population vaccinated, boosted and some who have had the virus will help with preventing a larger wave of infections, especially those with more dire consequences.
However, BA.5 has been shown to already be a formidable foe, with a specific mutation that allows it to bypass the immune system of even vaccinated individuals. The FDA is working on a booster to target the BA.5 and the BA.4 subvariant specifically, but Webby said not to wait for those if you haven’t already gotten a booster as they’ll likely take some time to develop.
Those also who were previously infected by the virus are not finding themselves to be as protected from the new subvariant, as well.
The BA.5 subvariant has taken over the country as the dominant strain of COVID-19, responsible for 54% of all infections in Arizona. Across all 15 counties, the subvariant made up about 44% of all tests sequenced by TGen between June 26 and July 2.
In Maricopa County, 43% of all tests sequenced were BA.5, but is 62% in Coconino County. Apache, Navaja, Gila and Yuma counties have yet to see the subvariant.
“We know some of these older variants of concern are circulating around,” Webby said about the current virus ecosystem. “Right now, the best thing is to get those additional boosters.”
In a June 10 blog post, Arizona Department of Health Services interim Director Don Herrington urged Arizonans to consider the risks in their own lives and speak with their own health care providers.
“[T]he CDC recommends talking to your health care provider if you are immunocompromised or high risk for severe disease to find out whether you need to wear a mask and take other precautions,” Herrington said, adding that, although cases have risen, week-to-week hospitalizations have remained low and numbers still remain far below winter surge levels.
N95 and KN95 masks still offer the greatest level of protection, but Harrington stressed that any level of mask will help protect against the virus if worn properly and “consistently,” adding that some facilities will likely encourage or make masks mandatory, such as congregate care facilities. The department offers advice on its website on where to wear masks and what type.
“It remains critically important to get vaccinated and boosted and to get tested for COVID-19 if you have symptoms or are at least five days after exposure,” Herrington said. Arizona offers more than 100 locations that test for COVID-19 and also offer antiviral treatments at the same location. “Be sure to wear a mask, wash your hands thoroughly, and maintain physical distance from others.”
Anyone looking for more information on testing can find that here: azhealth.gov/Testing
Anyone looking for more information on where to get a vaccine can find that here: azhealth.gov/findvaccine
This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.