'The virus not done with us yet': Health officials warn of reinfection as BA.5 variant spreads

Governor JB Pritzker has also updated the state's executive order on the COVID pandemic

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Thursday, July 14, 2022
Health officials urgeCOVID  booster shots as BA.5 variant spreads
The virus has evolved into a strain that is highly transmissible BA.5, that can sidestep immunity from previous Omicron infections and vaccinations, health officials say.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Governor JB Pritzker is updating the state's executive order on the COVID pandemic.

Under the requirements now, long-term care facilities in areas with moderate transmission will have to test staff every week who are not up to date with COVID vaccinations.

Meanwhile, fears of a COVID resurgence are on the rise.

Downtown streets are busy again and the return to normalcy is what people want for their summer of 2022, but as the omicron BA. 5 variant now the dominant COVID strain, doctors warn people they should be worried about yet another pandemic wave.

"I know everyone is tired of this pandemic and everyone is tired of taking these precautions, but I assure you the virus not done with us yet and it will continue to evolve," said Dr. Jonathan Martin, a Cook County Health infectious disease specialist.

The virus has evolved into a strain that is highly transmissible. The latest strain, BA.5, can sidestep immunity from previous omicron infections and vaccinations, health officials say.

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"There is some early data that suggests people who were infected with earlier variants of BA.1 are actually susceptible to being re-infected with this variant," said Dr. Egon Ozer, a Northwestern Medicine infectious disease specialist.

Because of reinfection rates, the White House COVID Response Team is strongly urging people to get boosted now rather than wait for an omicron-specific vaccine to possibly come out in the fall.

"For all people over 50, it's critical that you get a second booster. The data on this is very clear. For people under 50, the FDA is looking at that closely," said Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House COVID-19 Response coordinator.

Whether it is the fourth shot or third, the booster rates for those eligible have remained low for months. The national is rate is only 33%. In Illinois, it's a bit higher at 37% and Chicago is at 37.4%.

RELATED: Undercounted COVID cases leave US with a blind spot as omicron subvariant BA.5 becomes dominant

Doctors say that if people don't get vaccinated and boosted, the virus could mutate into something much more severe.

"Every time there's a new infection, there is a new opportunity for the variant to emerge and to change further, and we don't know what that change is going to be," Ozer said.

Doctors say that just because omicron and it's sub-variants have been less severe, it doesn't mean the next variant will be.

Infectious Disease experts say COVID has not reached the point where it's is comparable to a seasonal flu or cold. It remains 10 times more deadly than influenza and you can get COVID year round.