It appears the Covid-19 pandemic peaked and is declining, but it also appears the virus is not going anywhere anytime soon, as the BA.5 variant has been aggressively making its way around Nassau County, especially the North Shore.
BA.5 was first identified in early June, and it appears to be the most contagious variant so far. A study conducted by Yale Medicine reports that the new variant accounts for more than 50 percent of cases in the U.S.
According to Dr. Bradley Sherman, medical director and chair of the Department of Medicine at Glen Cove Hospital, this newest variant is highly infectious, although the symptoms the strain causes are milder than previous strains such as Omicron, which hit the U.S. last November.
Sherman explained that the symptoms are less severe, and most people who come in with Covid are “incidental” cases, meaning they check in for a separate issue and subsequently test positive while at the hospital.
“The symptoms in general tend to be much, much lower for people,” Sherman said. “They tend to have a sore throat, fatigue, coughing, maybe a low-grade fever as the predominant symptoms. We’re seeing a fair amount of people that are coming in that test positive, and I think that’s because this strain seems to be highly infectious. So a lot of people are getting it, despite the fact they’ve been vaccinated.”
At press time, six of Glen Cove Hospital’s 128 patients had Covid-19, but it was unclear how many had the BA.5 variant. All of the Covid patients were over 60, and had other illnesses or conditions, which made them more susceptible to the virus.
According to the Nassau County Covid Tracker, there were 9,138 cases in North Shore communities at press time, despite the area’s high vaccination rate.
Many residents continue to track Covid-19 cases. Maureen Collier, of Sea Cliff, who is vaccinated and boosted, but contracted Covid in June, spoke to the Herald while walking her dog through the village. She explained that she is concerned by the rise of Covid cases, because her parents, both 82, are immuno-compromised.
“I’m masking up more, and always wash my hands a lot, testing more, and in general just being more aware,” Collier said. “I feel like we’re OK in the summer, since we’re outside more, but maybe when the winter comes, we can look at it a little bit more. In the meantime, I’m going to do whatever I need to do to protect myself, and my parents and my family.”
Sylvia Whitfield of Oyster Bay said she doesn’t have any immunocompromised relatives, but is aware of the rising Covid numbers. Whitfield highlighted the fact that so many people are tired of dealing with Covid even after they’ve been vaccinated and boosted like her, and in many ways just want to be done with it.
“With everybody having their guard down, I think there’s more and more people who are going to get infected,” Whitfield said. “People are just . . . they’re tired of the whole Covid thing, so despite the rise, people are more relaxed in their practices and preventions.”
While the hospitalization numbers are not currently cause for concern, the story may become different in the autumn, when school starts again and adults retreat inside from cooler weather. There is no way of knowing what the numbers may look like come fall, Sherman said that medical professionals are hoping not to see a repeat of last year, when ICU beds were filled with patients suffering from the Omicron variant. He encourages any remaining anti-vaccine holdouts to vaccinate as soon as possible.
“There’s still a small percentage of people that are reluctant to get vaccinated, and I think with the infection rates being this high it still makes sense for people to get vaccinated, even if they’ve been reluctant to do so in the past,” Sherman said. “Vaccination is shown to carry very little risk given the number of people that have been vaccinated overall, so I highly recommend getting vaccinated.”