Omicron became the dominant variant in the U.S. and across the world last year. However, as we have seen throughout the pandemic, COVID-19 continues to evolve. Omicron has mutated into multiple subvariants, including the BA.5 variant which is now the dominate strain of COVID-19 in the United States. Here is what you need to know about BA.5 to help stay safe from serious COVID-19 illness.
1. Keep Vaccinations Up to Date
Early data about BA.5 suggests that it may be more contagious than other Omicron variants and has contributed to an increase in hospitalizations and ICU admissions. CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky has said, "we do know it to be more transmissible and more immune-evading. People with prior infection, even with BA.1 and BA.2, are likely still at risk for BA.4 or BA.5."
Vaccinations continue to be the best way to protect against severe COVID-19 illness, and current guidelines strongly encourage everyone who is eligible to stay up to date. Being "up to date" on COVID-19 vaccines means you have received all recommended COVID-19 vaccines, including any booster dose(s) when eligible. In response to the most recent variants, the FDA is considering another round of boosters this fall.
Visit our COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker to learn more about available vaccines and timing for boosters.
2. Follow Local Transmission Rates
According to the CDC, BA.5 and BA.4 variants account for 80 percent of new cases in the U.S. as of July 18. The CDC is monitoring the progress of BA.5 and all other variants, with weekly updates on their COVID-19 Variants Data Tracker. Also visit the CDC’s COVID-19 Community Levels, to monitor whether your area is at a low, medium or high-risk level and what precautions you are recommended to take.
3. Continue or Resume Protection Practices
Even though some restrictions have been relaxed, the measures that are recommended to protect against earlier COVID-19 variants are suggested for BA.5.
- Masking: If COVID-19 community levels are high in your area, you should keep your mask on for an extra layer of protection. It is also good practice to keep masks on in a crowded indoor environment and recommended when using public transportation. Learn more about masking.
- Hand washing: Wash your hands often with soap and water or use hand sanitizer if soap and water aren’t available.
- Clean and disinfect your home: Cleaning with a household cleaner that contains soap or detergent reduces the germs on surfaces and decreases risk of infection from surfaces. Disinfection to reduce transmission of COVID-19 is only needed if someone in your home is sick. Visit the CDC website for some tips.
- Ventilate your home: Bringing fresh air into your home helps keep virus particles from accumulating. Use the CDC’s interactive tool to learn how you can decrease the level of COVID-19 virus particles in your home.
- Testing: Get tested if you have symptoms of COVID-19 or have been exposed. Testing is free to everyone in the U.S. Find a location here. You can also order up to 24 free at-home tests for your household at Covidtests.gov.
Blog last updated: August 25, 2023