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Health leaders say rise in COVID-19 cases pushes need for new strategies against variants

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a few cities in our area are now at high community levels.

CHESAPEAKE, Va. — It's a pattern public health leaders say they expected to see mid-summer.

Cities across Hampton Roads are seeing higher community levels of COVID-19. Those cities include Portsmouth, Suffolk, Isle of Wight, and Southampton County.

Chesapeake's Public Health Emergency Coordinator Jerry Tucker said he and his team monitor the levels of COVID-19 more than once a day. He said Chesapeake is at a medium level of COVID-19.

"Typically when your neighboring jurisdictions are in the red, it's just a matter of time until we head that way ourselves," said Tucker, referring to the high community levels of the virus. 

Tucker said the transmissibility for BA.5 is high and it evades immunity from vaccinations and previous infections.

With that high transmissibility, Tucker said his team is adjusting strategies on how to fight the virus. That includes how we treat outdoor events, such as concerts and festivals.

"With COVID in 2020, we advised people to mask-up while indoors mainly. With BA.5, that's kind of changed," Tucker explained. "Even outside, it's so transmissible that if you are in a high-congregation area, we recommend you mask up."

Meanwhile, Portsmouth Public Health Acting Director Dr. Sulola Adekoya is also monitoring the levels.

"It didn't come as a surprise at all. When we got in the red zone, it was a gradual transition for us to get there," said Dr. Adekoya.

Dr. Adekoya said with the higher transmission rate of the COVID-19 variants, she encourages everyone in Hampton Roads to utilize the tools around them.

"We're still encouraging vaccinations because that's still the number one tool because those who are vaccinated and boosted if they do get infected, we know those symptoms are milder. We also advocate testing," Dr. Adekoya said.

Both Tucker and Adekoya said hospitalizations rose recently, but not enough to cause concern at this point.

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