NORTH CAROLINA (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — At this point, it may sound like old news, but it is not.

COVID cases are going back up, and largely due to new variants. The Omicron BA.4 variant and Omicron BA.5 variant are accounting for many new cases. The BA.5 variant, specifically, accounts for over a quarter of all cases in North Carolina, and over a quarter of all cases in Mecklenburg County

“The vaccines are still working very well against BA.5, if you have been boosted,” said Dr. David Montefiori, a virologist at Duke Health.

Montefiori is considered one of the experts on the new variant, BA.5, which is different from other types of COVID.

“We’re seeing more cases of breakthrough infections because that first line of defense is not as effective against BA.5 as it was against earlier variants,” said Montefiori, who noted that vaccines have been effective in leading its recipients to not suffer the most severe effects of COVID in those breakthrough cases.

The rise in cases is happening nationally. According to the Centers for Disease Control, North and South Carolina are both at a 7-day positivity rate of between 20 and 24.9%. Under old metrics, that would have been enough to force mask mandates for some areas, though guidance has since changed and it is no longer considered a reliable indication of COVID in a state or community. 

The number, however, can tell a state and community how prevalent the virus is.

Montefiori doubts that the BA.5 variant will lead to a return of mask mandates, but variant-specfic boosters are on the way.

“I believe with the variant boost that we’ll have in the fall, that the FDA is recommending in the fall, is going to improve that protection even more,” he said.