CDC: National surge in COVID infection includes nine Chattanooga-area counties at high risk

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Hamilton County is among nine counties in the Chattanooga region currently considered high-risk for COVID-19 infection by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as cases and hospitalizations continue to rise.

The area's high-risk counties are Hamilton, Marion and Sequatchie counties in Tennessee, Chattooga, Dade, Gordon and Walker counties in Georgia and DeKalb and Jackson counties in Alabama.

Risk levels are calculated each Thursday and are based on the weekly rate of new cases, hospital admissions and the percent of inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients.

The CDC recommends that people in high-risk areas wear face masks indoors in public and on public transportation, stay up-to-date with COVID-19 vaccines and get tested and isolate from others if experiencing symptoms.

(READ MORE: White House urges caution on COVID variants, pushes boosters)

Older adults and people at higher risk for severe illness should consider taking additional precautions, according to the CDC.

The Chattanooga region's latest COVID-19 wave comes amid a national surge that has been gaining steam since mid-April as a result of omicron subvariants BA.4 and now BA.5, which according to the CDC became the dominant coronavirus variant in both the Southeast and the United States as a whole in early July.

Both subvariants are better than any prior strain at evading immunity from previous infection and vaccination, and they're the most contagious versions of the coronavirus yet.

Carissa Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organization, said during a news briefing last week that the latest strains are "yet another reminder that the virus keeps evolving every time it is transmitted and that we must remain vigilant."

Though the latest wave represents the fourth largest in terms of case levels of the pandemic thus far at a time when far fewer tests are reported to public health authorities, those authorities have been relatively quiet in comparison to prior surges.

(READ MORE: US regulators OK new COVID-19 shot option from Novavax)

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House's chief COVID-19 medical adviser, said during a recent news briefing that the nation must learn to "deal with" new variants and "not let it disrupt our lives."

Recent COVID-19 deaths have so far remained relatively low in comparison to previous surges, likely because so many Americans now have some level of protection from vaccination or prior infection and because treatment options have improved.

Medical experts also have said omicron variants seem to cause less serious illness than previous coronavirus strains, though infections can still be quite serious.

At least 20 Hamilton County residents have died due to COVID-19 so far in June and July, according to data from the Hamilton County Health Department.

Contact Elizabeth Fite at efite@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6673. Follow her on Twitter @ecfite.