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Highly-contagious BA.5 is now the dominant COVID-19 strain in Jefferson County

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Coronavirus cell

The BA.5 variant is now the dominant COVID-19 strain in Jefferson County, mirroring a nationwide trend

Researchers with University of Louisville’s Envirome Institute found the highly-transmissible variant makes up more than half of cases detected in wastewater samples from five facilities in the county. That figure is as high as 80% in some areas.

Dr. Jeff Howard, director at the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness, said during a news conference on Monday the new strain quickly replaced earlier omicron variants. 

“And what we're seeing is the BA.5 variant took over in the wastewater data in really a remarkable period of time and quickly [replaced] the BA.2 omicron variants that we were seeing early on,” he said. 

The Metro health dashboard listed Jefferson County in the yellow category, indicating medium risk, as of Monday. State data had moved the county to green, or the least spread.

Around a third of the Kentucky counties were in the red, according to Friday’s numbers. The state's weekly positivity rate is just under 17%. 

“The bottom line here is that COVID-19 isn’t over,” Howard said. “We’re going to see variants for the foreseeable future. Folks need to modify their risks.”

Howard added that early evidence shows the variant may be more resistant to vaccines and antibodies from prior infections, though it’s not yet known if it causes more serious illness than other variants. 

“However, vaccination and getting fully vaccinated, including boosters, is the best tool that we have to prevent this infection… and can still prevent severe illness if contracted,” he said. 

As of Monday, Indiana’s seven-day average of cases was 1,486, a slight decrease from the prior week.

Floyd County Health Officer Dr. Tom Harris said the county's local positivity rate has hovered around 10% for the past few weeks. But he said that’s not an accurate picture, because many people are testing at home, and those aren’t reported. 

“There’s definitely disease, it’s definitely in the community,” he said. 

Harris said though the Indiana State Department of Health is reporting BA.2 as the main strain in the state, their sequencing is about 10 days behind. 

He said COVID hospitalizations in Floyd County have been low for a few weeks, but he expects increases as BA.5 spreads, adding that it’s too early to know if it will become dominant in that area. 

Harris urged those at higher risk of infection to wear masks in public places, and for all those eligible to get vaccinated and boosted.

Aprile Rickert is LPM's Southern Indiana reporter. Email Aprile at arickert@lpm.org.

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