COVID BA.5 Isn't Just ‘So Much' More Contagious. It's ‘Better at Reinfecting:' Expert

The BA.5 subvariant appears to escape immunity and transmit more easily, leading some to call it the "worst version" of omicron yet -- and a recent study on severe outcome risk from reinfection raises fresh alarm bells

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What to Know

  • COVID cases are surging across America once again, fueled in large part by the highly contagious and more vaccine-resistant omicron subvariants
  • All five NYC counties were added back to the CDC's high-risk category for COVID spread on Friday, Westchester County was also added to the list
  • "It is so much more transmissible than any of the other variants than we've seen before, meaning it's better at infecting and re-infecting," said COO Somos Community Care Dr. Lidia Virgil

The tri-state appears to already be getting hit with the sixth COVID wave, and doctors say this particular subvariant of omicron can elude rapid test detection and more easily reinfect people, including those who have been vaccinated and boosted.

Omicron subvariant BA.5 is now the dominant COVID strain in the U.S., with about 100,000 cases reported every day in recent weeks. There are fears BA.5 isn't showing up right away on many COVID tests — meaning that people who are infected are not isolating and could be further spreading the virus.

"People are not testing and people with symptoms that test may test negative on the first test. So they should re-test," said COO Somos Community Care Dr. Lidia Virgil. "It is so much more transmissible than any of the other variants than we've seen before, meaning it's better at infecting and re-infecting."

Still, Dr. Virgil said that the current strain is not more severe than previous strains, it just simply can be passed on easier than previous strains and subvariants.

Statewide, the 7-day average for cases per 100,000 is back above 30, with more than 2,260 hospitalizations — nearly half of which (1,119) are in NYC, according to the most recent numbers. That's comparable to the tail end of the omicron surge from the winter, with about as many hospitalizations back in February (1,132).

However, the number of deaths and ICU stays are still staying relatively low, signifying that once again the new strain is not as formidable as earlier ones — and that vaccinations are preventing a deluge of hospitalizations. There are currently 116 COVID patients in the ICU at city hospitals, that's about half the total from the winter surge.

And testing does not seem to be as urgent of an issue this time around as well. Near a couple of testing booths in Columbus Circle on Monday, the lines to get a bite to eat at food trucks were longer than the ones to get a COVID test. And widespread mask use does not seem to have returned, either, despite the city advising that masks be worn inside public places once again.

In an effort to stop the spread, city health officials are pushing for more kids who qualify to get the vaccine.

The latest surge comes as New York state on Monday announced a new COVID hotline to serve those who test positive for the virus but don't have a healthcare provider. The hotline, 1-888-TREAT-NY, uses NYC Health + Hospitals Virtual ExpressCare platform and aims to help reduce barriers to treatment for underserved communities.

All New Yorkers outside of New York City city, regardless of income or health insurance coverage who test COVID-19 positive, are eligible to be evaluated for treatment by calling that hotline or completing an evaluation at the NYS COVID-19 ExpressCare Therapeutics Access website, which includes a telemedicine visit.

New York City residents should call 212-COVID-19. It's the same hotline, which is available 24/7 and run by clinically trained H+H professionals. Providers with H+H also offer virtual care via the ExpressCare platform.

All five boroughs are back in the CDC's high-risk category for community COVID spread as of the agency's latest update, while city health officials are reminding people it's smart to wear masks indoors.

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