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'Highly-transmissible' COVID-19 variant causing reinfections across Washington

BA.5 is highly contagious, transmissible and evades antibodies in many who have been vaccinated.

SEATTLE — It’s being called highly transmissible, elusive and it’s fueling a rise in coronavirus cases in Washington state and across the country.

The omicron subvariant BA.5 is the dominant strain of COVID-19 in Washington and now throughout the U.S., according to public health officials and new data released Wednesday.

The virus is catching many who are vaccinated and boosted off guard because residents are getting reinfected.

Even libraries across the Puget Sound region are making adjustments. Inside the Beacon Hill Library Branch, while checking out books, free COVID-19 tests are available for residents to take home. It is one of the many precautions inside the library as COVID-19 cases continue to rise, fueled by BA.5.

“I’ve heard a little bit about it,” said Jenny Pohly. “The BA.5, but I’m not that concerned. I just had COVID.”

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Pohly said coronavirus is a topic of conversation among her family and friends again.

“It’s so weird,” Pohly said. “I feel like every month now a bunch of people will get it, and then it goes away, and then a bunch of people will get it.”

New numbers from the Washington State Department of Health show BA.5 is now the dominant variant in Washington.

“Maybe I’m a little delusional, but I just had it... how can I get it again?” Pohly asked rhetorically.

Dr. Pavitra Roychoudhury of the University of Washington Virology Lab explained how this variant is leading to more cases.

“It's a variant that's been shown to be highly transmissible, and it's also been shown to be really good at evading antibody protections,” Roychoudhury said.

Roychoudhury believes now is not a time to let your guard down.

“I am quite concerned by the fact that the numbers of cases are still so high, the percent positivity rate for samples that are coming into our lab is still well over 20%, and it has been above 20%, or around 20%, for over a month now,” Roychoudhury said. "That tells me that there's this sustained level of community transmission that's going on.”

Seattle Public Libraries adjusted its hours in response to the rise in cases.

“The reason we are reducing hours is because of staffing levels and impacts of COVID cases,” said Andrew Harbison, the interim director of public services at Seattle Public Libraries.

Harbison said they increased staffing levels by 9%, but with sick calls and other leave, Harbison said it is back down to 8%.

“So, we're kind of back where we started,” he added.

“I think the most important thing is to get boosted if one has not been boosted yet,” Roychoudhury said. “The boosters, with the current boosters that we have, were designed based on the original SARS-COVID-2 sequence or the original lineage. So, what's currently being developed is a booster that is specific to the omicron lineages that are currently circulating. And that will help a lot.”

There are vaccine pop-up clinics happening across the region, including a pop-up at the Renton Library on Thursday, July 14, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. For a full list of locations and vaccination clinics, click here

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