As the U.S. is in the midst of another COVID-19 surge, UTA and Tarrant County have encouraged precautions to combat against the virus’s most transmissible subvariant to date.
BA.5, the newest subvariant of Omicron, recently became the dominant strand causing the outbreak of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. The subvariant was estimated to make up 81.9% of the circulating COVID-19 cases in the U.S. for the week ending July 23, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This is 6% higher than the prevalence estimated in the prior week. The U.S. currently records a daily average of over 114,000 new cases, according to the CDC.
The Omicron variant spreads more quickly than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus and the Delta variant, according to the CDC. BA.5 and BA.4 are thought to be even more transmissible than BA.2 — the predominant Omicron subvariant that caused an outbreak in the beginning months of 2022. However, there is no clear indication that BA.5 is deadlier than the other subvariants, according to Yale Medicine.
In June, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommended COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers change the formula of their booster shots to include components to combat the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants. The updated booster shots are expected to be available in September.
The university recommends its community wear a mask indoors and where social distancing cannot be maintained, according to a universitywide email sent July 21.
UTA offers free face masks throughout campus and will enhance cleaning in spaces visited by individuals that test positive for COVID-19, said Jeff Carlton, executive director of communications and media relations, in an email.
“In addition, the university’s [heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems] are programmed for maximum airflow and are undergoing filter system upgrades and extensive duct cleaning,” Carlton said.
Recently, the testing location on Spaniolo Drive, which is available to all students and employees, expanded its hours to 9 a.m. to 7 p.m seven days a week.
Due to the reduction in cases, hospital admissions and other factors, UTA has stopped reporting on-campus cases since May 31, 2022. However, the university still plans to update the COVID-19 Dashboard, which reports on-campus testing and positive-case rates.
UTA’s dashboard has reported 55 positive cases over the past 14 days. The total on-campus cases differs from the total positive case count on the COVID-19 Dashboard, which captures all reported positive cases in the UTA community since the implementation of required testing Aug. 13, 2021, regardless of whether they were on UTA's campus at the time of infection.
Tarrant County Public Health advises individuals wear masks and practice social distancing indoors after the level of COVID-19 community spread went back to high, according to an announcement July 6 on Twitter.
The county recorded over 6,900 positive cases for the week ending July 30, according to its COVID tracker website. The graphics and data show a small but noticeable spike in COVID-19 cases since the end of June, but the number of confirmed cases is still a fraction compared to January, when the county data showed over 37,000 confirmed and probable cases in a week.
Tarrant County’s COVID-19 spread risk is also marked as “high” by the CDC, which determines risk level by looking at hospital admissions and the number of new cases in the area. The high-risk designation means that the CDC recommends citizens wear a mask indoors in public, stay up to date with vaccine information, get tested if showing symptoms and practice additional precautions for those at high risk of severe illness.
Test positivity rates in the Metroplex are high, which the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center said indicates that many positive cases are being missed in official records, according to its COVID-19 forecast Wednesday.
“Based on these trends, our medium-term forecast predicts that hospitalizations should continue to rise over the near-term and could return to elevated levels by August if trends persist,” the forecast reported.