The Biden administration is calling on people to exercise renewed caution about COVID-19, emphasizing the importance of getting booster shots for those who are eligible and wearing masks indoors as two new highly transmissible variants are spreading rapidly across the country.
The new variants, labeled BA.4 and BA.5, are offshoots of the omicron strain that has been responsible for nearly all of the virus spread in the U.S. and are even more contagious than their predecessors. White House doctors stressed the importance of getting booster doses, even if you have recently been infected.
“Currently, many Americans are under vaccinated, meaning they are not up to date on their COVID-19 vaccines,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Staying up to date on your COVID-19 vaccines provides the best protection against severe outcomes.”
Walensky said the U.S. has seen a doubling in the number of hospitalizations due to COVID-19 since April, reflecting the spread of the new subvariants, though deaths have remained steady around 300 per day.
One local mother said she and eight family members all got COVID-19 in the last month from the latest variant, BA.5.
“It gets us down when you are trying to tackle 12 or 13 symptoms all at the same time, a headache a sore throat, a fever and chills and hot flashes,” Shirley Simmons told News4JAX.
Simmons said she went on a family trip when she and her eight relatives, ranging in age from 5 to 67, all contracted COVID-19.
“So by the time, a couple of days, it was every, every person was getting the COVID,” Simmons said.
Simmons is considering more protection against COVID-19, saying she will probably get the booster shot.
But Simmons is grateful everyone in her family has recovered.
“I’ve had it. You can be angry and upset, but at the same time, I’m still here, so I have to be thankful for that,” Simmons said. “There are a lot of people that haven’t made it through this.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said while the new variants are concerning, with boosters, indoor masking and treatments the country has the tools to keep them from being disruptive.
“We should not let it disrupt our lives,” he said, “but we cannot deny that it is a reality that we need to deal with.”
He added that even if someone recently had COVID-19, they should get a booster.
“Immunity wanes, so it is critical to stay up to date with COVID 19 vaccines,” he said.
All Americans age 5 and over should get a booster five months after their initial primary series, according to the CDC, and those aged 50 and over — or who are immunocompromised — should get second booster four months after their first. According to CDC, tens of millions of eligible Americans haven’t received their first booster, and of those over 50 who got their first booster, only 28% have received their second.
“If you’re over 50 and you haven’t gotten the shot this year, you should go get a shot,” said White House COVID-19 coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha. “It’s going to save your life.”
Jha and Fauci said the U.S. is regularly discussing expanding eligibility for a second booster shot to all adults, but that no decision has been made yet.
“It’s a regulatory decision on the part of the FDA,” Fauci said.
Jha pressed said people who are eligible for a booster but haven’t received one shouldn’t wait for forthcoming vaccines targeted at the omicron strain in addition to the original form of the coronavirus. The U.S. has ordered 105 million of those updated shots that studies show provide better protection against omicron variants, but they won’t be available until the fall.
“Let me be clear, if you get vaccinated today, you’re not going to be ineligible to get the variants specific vaccine, as we get into the later part of fall and winter,” Jha said. “So, this is not a trade off, we’ve got plenty. It’s a great way to protect yourself.”
Added Fauci: “The threat to you is now.”
Other locals told News4JAX that they’re open to getting a booster.
“I have been following on the news, and yes, I am considering it,” said Chaka Onfroy.
Others don’t think many will be moved to get a booster.
“I feel like it’s not going to change unless they do a mass shut down again,” said Armoni Babbs.
In Jacksonville, according to the city, as of last Friday, there were 44 first responders, including corrections officers, who were on leave due to COVID-19.
Walensky noted that CDC data shows that about a third of Americans are living in areas the agency classifies as experiencing a high level of COVID spread, where the agency recommends people wear masks in public indoor spaces. Another 41% live in the CDC’s ‘medium’ level, where it recommends that people consider their own individual risk and consider masking.
There are three things health officials recommend:
- Go to covid.gov for a test.
- Wear a mask indoors.
- Consider having an air purifier in your home.
City of Jacksonville COVID-19 testing information
COVID-19 testing is provided at the following locations:
- Dynix Diagnostix: Drive-through site on the corner of Monument Road and Atlantic Boulevard, in front of the old JCPenney.
City of Jacksonville facilities
Operated by Agape Family Health
COVID-19 Testing and Vaccinations:
- Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
- Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Children ages 12 and older may get their COVID-19 vaccine at any of Agape’s vaccination sites. Appointments are not required.
- Clanzel T. Brown Community Center: 4575 Moncrief Road – 32209
- Lane Wiley Senior Center: 6710 Wiley Road – 32210
Operated by Telescope Health
COVID-19 Testing: Monday though Friday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Drive-through testing for rapid and PCR. Appointments are not required.
- Beaches Location (next to the former Kmart): 450 Atlantic Blvd. – 32266