TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — By now, many people have COVID-19 fatigue, but U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy is urging Floridians to not let their guard down.
COVID-19 cases are again on the rise in the Sunshine State due to the BA.5 variant, a highly transmissible and mutated version of Omicron.
The Florida Department of Health’s latest weekly COVID-19 report shows new case positivity rates in counties throughout Tampa Bay are hovering around 20% and that doesn’t include unreported at-home tests.
“If you’re in what we call the orange zone in terms of community transmission level, wearing a mask in indoor spaces is a wise thing to do because it will help prevent the spread of COVID,” Dr. Murthy said during an exclusive interview Tuesday with News Channel 8.
Dr. Murthy said this BA.5 variant can evade immunity from prior infection. He added hospitalizations are ticking up, but not at the same rate as they did during previous covid waves.
“We also, thankfully, have treatments that are effective for the various subvariants we’ve encountered,” Dr. Murthy said. “That includes treatments like Paxlovid, which are available at thousands of pharmacies across the country.”
Dr. Murthy said the available vaccines are still effective at preventing serious illness from the BA.5 variant.
“That’s my key message to Floridians right now, folks from my home state, make sure you’re up to date with your vaccines,” Dr. Murthy said. “It is the single most powerful way to prevent yourself from losing your life or ending up in the hospital due to COVID-19.”
Dr. Murthy said adults 50 years or older should get a second booster if it has been more than four months since the last shot.
While Florida’s Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo said the risks outweigh the benefits, the nation’s top doctor recommends that children under five years old get vaccinated.
“At a time when cases are going up, time when kids are getting back to school in a month or so its important to make sure they have as much protection as they can get,” Dr. Murthy said.
The Florida DOH did not respond to WFLA News Channel 8’s request for comment about this latest COVID-19 surge.