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COVID-19 BA.5 variant cases are likely to increase in the Cleveland and Akron areas soon

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Even people who are vaccinated could become infected by the BA.5 omicron subvariant.

The BA.5 omicron subvariant now makes up about 80% of COVID-19 infections in the United States, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The virus is much more contagious, even for people who have immunity, said Dr. Keith Armitage, infectious disease specialist at University Hospitals.

"People who are fully vaccinated are vulnerable to this new variant," he said. "There’s a big advantage to being vaccinated in terms of preventing serious illness, but we’re going to see more cases. I don’t think there’s any question."

Cases will likely increase in Northeast Ohio in the coming weeks, Dr. Armitage said. It is contributing to increases in COVID-19 hospitalizations and admissions to intensive care units in some areas of the country, according to reports from National Public Radio. That is not the case so far in Northeast Ohio, Dr. Armitage said.

"We're not seeing people come in with ugly chest X-rays, who are very, very low on oxygen, who are ending up in the ICU. We're just not seeing that with any frequency now," he said.

Being vaccinated prevents serious illness, Armitage said. People who are at high risk for severe infection are eligible for antiviral medication. He recommends talking to your doctor about this option if you get sick.

The CDC still recommends getting tested if you experience COVID-19 symptoms and wearing masks depending on the number of cases where you live.

Lisa Ryan is a health reporter at Ideastream Public Media.