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Public health: BA.5 strain causing COVID-19 spread, long COVID a risk

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Catawba County is among over half of North Carolina counties classified as having a high level of COVID-19.

Catawba County is seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases from the BA.5 variant of the virus, along with many other counties in North Carolina. The case number may be higher than officially reported.

An increase in the use of at-home COVID-19 tests means some people are getting COVID-19 but not reporting it to public health, Emily Killian, Catawba County Public Health community engagement specialist, said.

That means the actual number of new COVID-19 cases in Catawba County is likely higher than the roughly 1,000 new cases Catawba County reported over two weeks in July.

The increase in home COVID-19 tests is part of the reason public health reduced the days it offers COVID-19 testing, Killian said. Public health now offers testing Tuesdays and Fridays. Public health also is offering free at-home test kits, Killian said.

The BA.5 variant is a sub-variant of omicron, she said. Omicron and its variants are thought to be a more mild illness, but there is still a risk of long-term symptoms, Killian said.

“It’s important to remember that immunity levels are waning, even for people who had COVID or were vaccinated just a few months ago,” Killian said. “And with each reinfection, the risk of ‘long COVID’ increases.”

Omicron and its sub-variants, like BA.5, does not cause as many people to get seriously sick, be hospitalized or die as other COVID-19 variants. Still, the variant can cause lingering effects or post-COVID syndrome, Killian said. That could mean chronic breathing problems, persistent fatigue, or loss of taste or smell, she said.

“Now is a good time for people who are not vaccinated to go ahead and get their initial doses, and for people who have previously received those doses to get their booster,” Killian said. “This is especially important for younger adults, who are actually more likely to experience ‘long COVID’ than older adults.”

People should also try to social distance, avoid indoor crowds and wear masks inside, Killian said.

Catawba County is classified as a high-spread area by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than half of North Carolina counties are in the high spread category, including Caldwell, Burke and Alexander counties.

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