The Highly Contagious BA.5 Subvariant Of COVID-19 Has Been Officially Detected in Shasta County

It’s unclear how long the subvariant has been active in Shasta County because of the county’s limited access to genomic surveillance. Currently, the county’s overall test positivity rate is only about half the statewide average but that could change if the newly-detected BA.5 subvariant begins to spread rapidly.

Our COVID coverage is currently supported by a grant from the United Way of Northern California. Grant funding does not determine the nature of our coverage or otherwise impact our editorial independence.

As of July 6, almost 700 locals had tested positive for COVID over the last two weeks but the county had not yet detected the highly contagious BA.5 subvariant of COVID locally. That changed later last week, says Amy Koslosky, a Supervising Community Education Specialist with Shasta County Health and Human Services Agency.

Koslosky said the county has now found evidence of the BA.5 subvariant locally through the results of viral genome sequencing that are regularly shared with the county by a handful of local labs. She said those labs use special equipment and specially-trained staff to perform the sequencing on COVID-positive PCR tests. Unfortunately, not all COVID-positive PCR tests meet the criteria needed for whole-genome sequencing, she explained, making surveillance for new variants of the virus within the county limited. 

BA.5 is a subvariant of the Omicron variant. Last week it became the nation’s dominant subvariant of COVID. It’s highly contagious because of what Bob Wachter, chair of the UCSF Department of Medicine, described on Twitter as a new superpower: enough alteration in the virus’s spike protein that vaccinations and prior infections offer relatively little protection from the disease. 

That may be the reason new data coming out of LA County shows a decrease in the protective value of COVID vaccinations against the virus, according to reporting from the LA Times. Protection against hospitalization and death from the virus has also weakened, according to that data. But vaccinated people are still significantly less likely to get COVID, or be hospitalized or die from it than unvaccinated people are.

Source: LA County BOS via the L.A. Times

Although the risk of hospitalization and death from the highly contagious but less severe BA.5 COVID subvariant is relatively low for healthy people, individuals should be aware that if they contract even a lower-risk variant of COVID-19 they are more likely to experience heart attacksstrokediabetes, and blood clots for at least a year following their infection.

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Much remains unknown about how and why COVID increases health risks long term, but studies estimate than more than one in four COVID patients will experience a range of long-term symptoms, sometimes referred to as “long COVID”, although how that term should be defined is still being determined. Specialized post-COVID programs have been set up at in at least 20 medical centers in California to help treat patients with long-term symptoms.

What Else You Should Know:

Annelise Pierce is Shasta Scout’s Editor and Community Reporter covering government accountability, civic engagement, and local religious and political movements. You can contact her at [email protected] 

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