Omicron BA.5 is spreading, so let’s make smart choices to keep it at bay

There’s no need to panic over the BA.5 surge. But all of us should make an effort to be informed and aware — and to follow, even as we grumble about it, the advice of city public health officials to wear a mask indoors when around others.

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Travelers arrive at O’Hare International Airport on June 30, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois.

Travelers arrive at O’Hare International Airport on June 30. The federal mask mandate for air travel has expired, but with the new BA.5 variant, wearing one is still a good idea.

Kamil Krzaczynski/AFP via Getty Images

By now, most Americans have probably heard of BA.5, the Omicron subvariant that experts tell us is the most highly transmissible strain of coronavirus yet.

BA.5 is now the dominant form of the virus in the U.S. And though there’s no evidence that BA.5 causes more severe illness, it is more likely to evade any immunity you might have from previous COVID-19 infection or vaccination.

In other words, BA.5 can make you sick, more easily and more than once.

That’s concerning news, with the summer travel season now in full swing. Because as anyone who’s recently caught a flight or even taken public transportation can attest, more of us are now traveling maskless since mandates became a thing of the past.

Editorial

Editorial

It bears repeating: Yes, we’re all “done with COVID,” but masking up remains the smart choice. Especially in the close confines of an airplane, bus or train.

There’s no need to panic over BA.5. But all of us should be informed and aware — and follow, even as we grumble about it, the advice of public health officials to wear a mask indoors when around others.

Do it for ourselves and for the people we come in contact with, especially those at greater risk of serious illness because of age or pre-existing conditions.

In Cook County, our COVID-19 community transmission risk has fallen back down to “medium,” in part because new cases have remained flat and hospitalizations have fallen in Chicago.

Still, new cases are on the rise elsewhere. Nationally, over 107,000 new infections are being reported daily, and experts point out that the number is likely a severe undercount because so many of us are relying on home tests that go unreported if they turn up positive. Hospitalizations, too, are on the uptick. Deaths, however, continue to decline.

This fall, booster shots targeting the Omicron subvariants are expected to become available, which is good news.

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Young children are now eligible to be vaccinated, too, though to date, only 4% of Chicago youngsters from 0 to age 4 have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine, city data show.

Meanwhile, the Cook County Department of Public Health is offering $100 Visa gift cards through July 15 to residents who get their shot. Book an appointment at vaccine.cookcountyil.gov.

BA.5 is spreading, but we can make smart choices to keep it at bay.

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