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 like BA.5. That strain is also linked to a higher risk of reinfection
- The number of U.S. counties the CDC says are at high risk for COVID spread grew by 18% over the last week and 102% over the last two. That includes all of NYC, Long Island, Westchester and Rockland counties as well as all but three counties in New Jersey
- No new mask mandates have been implemented locally, but health officials say everyone in high-risk areas should mask up indoors in public settings regardless of vaccination status with spread rates as high as they are now
The number of U.S. counties meeting the CDC’s high-risk threshold for COVID spread soared another 18% in the last week and is up a stunning 102% over the last two, marking a four-fold increase in that top threat category in roughly the last month as the so-called “worst version” of omicron yet strengthens its footing in America and the tri-state area.
Just a fifth of the nation’s counties are at low risk for COVID spread as of Friday, down from a quarter last week. This time last month, 60% of U.S. counties were considered low risk by the CDC, including all five boroughs of New York City. All five boroughs remained well within the federal agency’s threshold for that high-risk status as of Friday’s update, as did both Long Island counties, Westchester and Rockland counties. Putnam County moved back to the CDC’s medium-risk category.
That high-risk CDC designation means face coverings are recommended indoors, especially in public settings, regardless of vaccination status. That has been the message in recent weeks from officials in New York City, where the rolling new case rate of 49.9 per 100,000 marks a 53.5% increase in the last month. The hospitalization rate is up 65% by the same parameters.
No corresponding increase in severe illness has accompanied this wave, fueled by omicron subvariant BA.5, which is why New York City is reevaluating its COVID alert system. Not only is BA.5 far more transmissible than earlier COVID strains, it has proven to be more likely to reinfect and evade vaccine protection. White House COVID Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha described it as “incredibly immune-evasive” as he discussed the variant threat this week during a COVID briefing held by New York Gov. Kathy Hochul. It was the Democrat’s first live COVID briefing in three months as BA.5 stokes anxiety anew.
The tide has also dramatically turned in neighboring New Jersey, where all but three counties — Mercer, Gloucester and Cumberland — are considered high-risk for COVID spread by the CDC. And Mercer, Gloucester and Cumberland are considered medium-risk. Salem was, too, but its numbers merit high-risk status this week.
It marks a significant reversal of progress from the CDC’s early July update, when only four of the Garden States 21 counties were considered high-risk. New case rates are up 25% in the last month, with the northeasternmost counties in the state, the ones closest to New York City, notching the highest in recent weeks. Hospitalizations and deaths have stayed manageable.
Connecticut actually improved in the latest CDC update, with Fairfield County joining four other counties in low-risk status, leaving only Litchfield, New Haven, and Middlesex counties at medium-risk. No Connecticut counties are considered high-risk for community COVID spread as of the CDC’s Friday update.
While varying increases are being noted across the board, the current highs pale in comparison to what they were earlier this year. But scientists are vigilantly monitoring the latest developments around BA.5 as they caution the utmost attention be paid to any future strains that emerge from the original omicron variant out of South Africa. The reasons are clear and mounting.
New York City, where BA.5 accounts for at minimum 57% of COVID cases and likely far more, and Long Island, which has the second-highest rolling new case rate right now behind the city, also have the highest reinfection rates of the state’s 10 regions.
Breakthrough COVID infection and hospitalization rates are also on the rise in New York state, data shows. A recent study published by Columbia University researchers found that BA.5 and BA.4, which together account for more than three-quarters of COVID cases in the city, were at least 4.2 times more vaccine-evasive than their latest-more-vaccine-resistant predecessor.
It noted that subvariant BA.2.12.1, which fueled the May case and hospitalization surge that sent 87% of all New York state counties into the CDC’s COVID high-risk territory, was found to be only 1.8 times more resistant. And just one therapeutic antibody authorized for clinical use retained full potency against those strains, the study says.
The subvariants are now responsible for 70% of new coronavirus cases, and their immunity to existing vaccines has concerned scientists. Here’s what you need to know about the subvariants.
Source: NBC New York
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