COVID Cases With Rising Prevalence Of BA.5 Variant; Should we wear a mask?

RALEIGH, NC (WTVD) – Health officials are advising caution as COVID-19 cases continue to rise nationwide.

The CDC reported that the 7-day moving average of new cases on July 20 was 39,777. On July 20 of this year, the 7-day rolling average of new cases was reported at 125,827, more than three times that figure.

“If your county happens to be one of those high transmission areas, then yes, I think it makes sense to wear a mask when out and about in those public places. Partly because the virus is more easily transmissible right now, partly because we know it’s a considerate thing for other people not to know if they have a compromised immune system or not,” said Dr. Nicholas Turner, assistant professor of infectious diseases at Duke University Hospital.

On Friday at Pullen Park, the parents shared how they were adjusting to the upward trend.

“It’s too hard to keep the kids at home during the summer break. So we just take care of ourselves, use sanitizer, sometimes when it’s crowded we use masks. But overall we’re fine. We’re getting used to it. I’ve had COVID for over two years,” Mai Allam said.

Allam says she takes her daughter to the park during the week when it’s less crowded.

“When I’m not outside, I have a mask on. My granddaughter in daycare wears a mask all day. I don’t go to the movies, I don’t go on cruises, I don’t go on vacations, I don’t even go to funerals. Until that is much lower, we’ve changed our entire routine,” added Stanley Davis.

Davis announced yesterday that she received her first COVID-19 vaccine dose.

Nationwide, only 3% of children under the age of 4, 27% of those aged 5 to 11, and 48% of those aged 12 to 17 have received at least one dose of the vaccine. Last week, NCDHHS said 10% of reported cases involved school-age children.

“Fortunately, while serious illnesses do occur, they are still far less common in children than in adults. I think in the past we felt like kids weren’t a huge contributor to the spread of COVID, but that’s changing now,” Dr. Turner said.

Health officials believe case numbers are too low due to the prevalence of home testing.

“I have a middle school student who will be going back to a traditional calendar next month. And that’s definitely something I’m worried about. We are also in a different place with this virus. We now have more treatments available that can reduce the severity of the disease that can reduce transmission, and I think there’s an increasing increase in that,” explained Jessica Dixon, infection prevention specialist at WakeMed Health and Hospitals.

Dixon also discussed the recent approval of the Novavax vaccine, which could lead to an increase in vaccinations.

The increase in cases is largely being driven by the more transmissible BA.5 variant, which accounts for about 50% of cases in North Carolina and the majority of cases nationally. This recent surge also coincides with the lifting or easing of most COVID restrictions, including mask requirements and capacity limitations, and an increase in travel.

“If I wasn’t vaccinated now, I would be masking myself everywhere I go. If you’re vaccinated but your last booster was like ours last fall, then I think it’s really time to start thinking about masking if you’re going to be in a crowd, indoor event,” Dixon said.

“If your county happens to be one of those high transmission areas, then yes, I think it makes sense to wear a mask when out and about in those public places. Partly because the virus is more easily transmissible at the moment, partly because we know it’s a considerate thing for other people not to know if they have a compromised immune system or not,” added Dr. Turner added.

Hospitalizations and ICU admissions are lagging indicators, although Dr. Turner found that about six percent of current hospitalizations are due to COVID.

“I don’t really think we would have anywhere near the surge capacity concerns that we did with Delta. I think the vaccines were a pretty big game changer for this one because we’ve seen a significant drop in the number of hospital admissions, even though breakthrough infections are clearly happening,” Turner said.

Another focus: Booster Shots. Protection from the vaccine and booster dose decreases over time, and many adults received their booster shots last fall or winter. Moderna and Pfizer are working on Omicron-specific vaccines that are expected to hit the market later this year.

“This is a great risk-benefit discussion for people to have with their doctors. In summary, I would say that for vulnerable individuals, if they are elderly, have medical comorbidities, or have immune system issues, I would still recommend going ahead with their boosters now and don’t waste time as we know the virus is still circulating. On the other hand, if someone has recently been boosted within that last four to six months, or is actually quite healthy and young to start with, it may well be worth noting, I think it’s also worth noting if someone chooses to get their boost now, it would be him not prevent getting the updated vaccine when it’s also available in the fall,” Turner said.

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