Osterholm: BA.5 is so infectious an elevator ride is enough time to get you sick

Subvariant Virus Spreading as viral pathogens model.
Subvariant Virus Spreading as viral pathogens model. Photo credit Getty Images

Concerns about the COVID-19 subvariant BA.5 continue to grow as the strain of the virus has caused a spike in cases throughout certain parts of the country.

Epidemiologist Dr. Michael Osterholm joined News Talk 830 WCCO’s Chad Hartman to discuss the state of the pandemic.

Osterholm shared with Hartman that the new subvariant is not something to mess with, as he currently knows more people who have COVID-19 right now than he has throughout the pandemic.

When it comes to where he thinks we are in the pandemic, Osterholm says, “We all are trying to figure out how to live with this virus and what it means for our daily lives.”

One reason there has been a jump in COVID cases is due to the highly infectious nature of the BA.5 subvariant, and experts have said it’s the most contagious strain of the virus yet. But one thing Osterholm shared is that there isn’t one central location seeing a massive spike in cases.

“Here in the United States, we do not have a hot spot,” Osterholm said. “If you look at the top 20 states for hospitalization right now, they are scattered all over the country, so this BA.5 is really making its presence felt everywhere.”

Regarding what’s different about BA.5 compared to other strains, Osterholm says that it can evade protection from previous infections and vaccinations, leaving people seeing new infections, despite having recent bouts with COVID.

Whereas before, with previous strains of the virus, Osterholm says it may have taken 10 to 15 minutes of exposure to be at risk of infection, with BA.5, he says it would take nothing more than “an elevator ride.”

“That poses a real challenge because people may have no idea they have a casual contact talking with somebody in a hallway, and that could be the exposure that infects them,” Osterholm said.

Even with the rising case numbers due to BA.5’s ability to evade protection, Osterholm reiterated that the vaccine is the most effective protection against serious illness, hospitalization, and death.

“There’s a difference between getting infected and having a serious illness and dying. I’ve been saying for months these vaccines are not perfect. They are far from perfect,” Osterholm said. “They are not stopping people all the time from getting infected… but what’s critical is keeping people out of the hospital, keeping people from being seriously ill, and keeping people from dying.”

Lastly, when it comes to what could happen from here, Osterholm says that he just "doesn't know" because we could see another spike this year like we did last year if new strains keep popping up.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Getty Images