RICHMOND, Va. -- Richmond continues to remain in the "High" category for COVID-19 community spread. Statewide, the Virginia Department of Health reports nearly 3,300 newly confirmed cases of the virus over the last 24 hours.
According to the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association, about 670 patients are in state hospitals with COVID-19.
Doctors say a new strain of the Omicron variant, BA.5, is to be blamed for the rise in infections.
“It’s absolutely concerning for another wave, we’re seeing more and more hospitalizations, more cases, so that certainly suggests another wave," Dr. Gonzalo Bearman, VCU Health's Chief of Infectious Disease.
The BA.5 variant now makes up for more than half of the infections in the United States. In Virginia and neighboring states, 41% of new cases can be tied back to this new variant.
Cat Long with the Richmond Henrico Health District (RHHD) said the health department anticipated new variants to continue to cause infection.
“We’re anticipating that BA5 is pretty transmissible and perhaps even more transmissible than earlier Omicron variants," Long said.
Dr. Bearman said that even though BA.5 is not expected to be more severe than other omicron variants, immunity from prior infection or vaccines may not hold up as it used to.
“It allows the virus to evade the immunity that’s created either by prior infection or by the vaccines and it may also latch itself better or more efficiently to respiratory cells that cause infections," Dr. Bearman said.
"There have been reports of some people who had Omicron in December or January, some of those earlier variants, getting reinfected with this current variant," Long said.
Richmond is among 20 other localities now recommended to reinstate universal masking.
One thing RHHD believes can bring positive COVID-19 case numbers down, is getting kids ages 6 months and up vaccinated. Long noted the vaccine uptake for that age group is slowing down, while the rate of infections speeds up.
“Babies are really informally known among family members of being a good vector of spreading illness because everyone is picking them up and loving on them," Long did.
As for the severity of the new wave, Dr. Bearman said that remains to be seen.
“Whether or not that translates into not only hospitalizations but more severe illness, or even worse outcomes such as deaths, that’s yet to be seen so that’s not known yet.”
Bearman said he does anticipate new vaccines to be available this fall or winter to keep up with the changing variants.