North Carolinians in half of the state’s counties are advised to wear masks in public, according to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As the new BA.5 subvariant surges through the state, nine counties transitioned from a medium- to a high-risk classification this week, bringing the total number of high-risk counties to 50. In those areas, the CDC recommends that people wear a well-fitting mask in indoor, public places, regardless of vaccination status.
The CDC calculates these risk categories by compiling data about COVID transmission, hospital admissions and hospital capacity. Each level corresponds with a color and a number of steps individuals and communities are urged to take to mitigate the spread.
Those living in the highest risk counties, orange, and who are at high risk of severe disease may consider avoiding nonessential indoor activities and talk to their doctors about treatment plans in case they do test positive.
Those with high risk friends or family members should consider rapid testing before seeing them.
Gov. Roy Cooper echoed this guidance in a press release on Tuesday, encouraging North Carolinians to prepare for an onslaught of positive cases. He said residents should stock up on at-home rapid tests, create a plan for seeking medications if they fall ill, and wear a mask in crowded indoor places.
BA.5 is undoubtedly more contagious than the variants that dominated earlier this summer — one study estimated it is 1.4 times more transmissible than the subvariant that dominated before it.
Thanks to spike protein mutations, this subvariant is also particularly adept at evading immunity from both vaccinations and past infections, even if the infection was recent.
Well-fitting, high quality masks are still effective at protecting against BA.5. N95 or KN95 masks are ideal, though surgical masks are better than nothing at all.
There isn’t any concrete data to suggest that people should be wearing masks outdoors.
Not much has changed in the Triangle in the last week. Just like the week before, Durham, Orange, Chatham and Harnett counties are all high risk. Wake, Franklin and Johnston counties are still medium risk.
People living in yellow (medium risk) or green (low risk) counties shouldn’t necessarily throw caution to the wind, said Duke infectious disease expert, Dr, Cameron Wolfe.
Personal risk depends on a number of factors like vaccination status, risk for severe illness, and behavior.
“I would not be reassured if I’m the transplant patient that never got the vaccine and I sit in a green county,” he said.
Teddy Rosenbluth covers science for The News & Observer in a position funded by Duke Health and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund. The N&O maintains full editorial control of the work
This story was originally published July 22, 2022 12:08 PM.
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