By Erin Petenko/VTDigger
It’s been roughly a year since the Delta variant arrived in Vermont, reversing what had been a nearly Covid-free summer.
Delta caused a surge in cases and hospitalizations, propelling what Health Commissioner Mark Levine deemed a new phase in the pandemic — only for Omicron to arrive in December, leading cases to skyrocket.
Just as Omicron waned and Vermont began to loosen restrictions, BA.2 came, then its close cousin BA.2.12.1. Now, on the heels of recovering from that strain, Vermont’s Covid-19 levels remain “low” according to most indicators — but yet another strain looms on the horizon. Enter BA.5.
The strain has become dominant in the U.S., forming 77% of new cases, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While it’s hard to estimate the rate for Vermont, the CDC reports BA.5 is also the dominant strain in New England.
Experts say BA.5 is about as severe as Omicron, and about as transmissible, too. But they’re concerned that BA.5 seems to be good at evading people’s immunity to the virus, meaning that reinfections are likely.
“It’s as if the population is seeing a completely new virus in some ways,” said Denis Nash, a professor of epidemiology at the City University of New York. The strain also comes at a time when Vermont has scaled back its efforts to fight the disease. Testing, vaccination and treatment are available only through medical providers, rather than state-run sites.
“If you are (vaccinated and) boosted, you are still very, very highly protected from the serious outcomes,” state health commissioner Mark Levine said, adding that the number of new hospital admissions for Covid-19 would have to change “dramatically” for Vermont to change its policies.