MILWAUKEE — The BA.5 COVID variant has driven up disease transmission in Milwaukee, sparking the health department's indoor mask advisory and questions about how this latest variant is showing up.
The health department's mask advisory is a recommendation for everybody to wear a face mask in indoor public spaces given the rate of new cases, hospitalizations, and percent of inpatient beds with COVID-19 patients.
"It can affect anybody in any way," Dr. Khadieja Khalid said right before stopping to catch her breath as she deals with COVID-19.
Dr. Khalid is an infectious disease specialist at Froedtert Hospital and the Medical College of Wisconsin. She is also a mother to a young son.
Dr. Khalid said her symptoms got so bad she had to be hospitalized.
"I can't breathe, like I need help. And you know, I'm a typical, normal, healthy person without really any kind of medical co-morbidities and that was terrifying," Dr. Khalid recalled.
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She went on to say it is scary to wonder how much worse it could have been if she was not up to date on her vaccines.
When it comes to the current COVID wave Nick Tomaro, emergency preparedness and environmental health director at the Milwaukee Health Department, stressed it is important for people to understand this virus' pattern and for people to use the layers of protection that we know well--vaccinations and face masks indoors.
"You can get BA.5 easier than from some of the other variants that have been out there. The other thing is it is evading some of our immune responses. It does not mean that getting vaccinated isn’t highly protective and highly important getting vaccinated is by far the most important thing all of us can do," Tomaro said.
Tomaro explained that with Omicron and these variants they are seeing reinfections happen within four to six weeks. They are also seeing a delay in rapid antigen tests detecting the virus. Tomaro advised people with symptoms who tested negative at home to isolate and repeat the test the next day or to get a PCR test.
"We're seeing a lot more upper respiratory tract infections, which mimic a bad cold basically with a bad sore throat," said Dr. Minhaj Husain, an infectious disease specialist at Aurora Health Care.
Dr. Husain said seeing people are making a reasonable recovery within a few days, especially those who are vaccinated, but everyone has different experiences. He added that it does not appear to be as lethal as previous waves but it is more transmissible.
"You should take the precautions you need to and you should definitely be humbled to the fact that you know, I've had it and I can get it again. So those are important things to understand with each variant, that we're always still at risk," Dr. Husain said.
Dr. Husain remained optimistic about progress in the fight against COVID-19 considering how far we have come and the ongoing research.
If you need to get up to date on your COVID vaccine, including your booster, health experts advise getting it done now.