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Health officials in Oregon warn of highly transmissible omicron subvariants

State health officer Dr. Dean Sidelinger said COVID case numbers and hospitalizations have doubled in recent weeks.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Health officials in Oregon shared some sobering news during a virtual press conference Wednesday, the week after Multnomah County began advising indoor masking again due to rising COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations.

"There's more COVID in the community, and the chances of you being exposed are even higher," Dr. Dean Sidelinger said.

Dr. Sidelinger, epidemiologist and health officer for the Oregon Health Authority, said that the COVID-19 pandemic is nowhere near over.

"What we're facing right now is the predominance of the BA.2 subvariant," he said. "We know we've detected our initial BA.4 in Oregon and we expect additional subvariants of BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants to show up in Oregon."

Dr. Sidelinger said that this revelation will most impact those at higher risk of becoming severely ill from COVID, even if they are vaccinated and boosted.

"Those with underlying medical conditions or who are immunocompromised should consider contacting their healthcare providers now to make a plan to get tested and receive treatment should they become ill," Dr. Sidelinger said.

RELATED: Latest Oregon COVID numbers: Cases, hospitalizations and vaccinations

Despite a spike in COVID cases and hospitalizations, Dr. Sidelinger said he does not anticipate the state implementing any drastic measures like a statewide mask mandate.

"I think individuals can assess their own risk, health conditions, who they live with and whether they're older adults, immunocompromised, or folks at higher risk."

Taking charge of the situation now, Dr. Sidelinger said, will pay off later.

"If we each take steps to protect ourselves and loved ones, COVID-19 doesn't need to dominate our lives," he said. "Being vaccinated and boosted is the best way to protect ourselves from severe disease."

RELATED: Multnomah County urges public to wear masks indoors amid BA.2 wave

The BA.2 subvariant earned the nickname "stealth" omicron when it first began circulating, because its mutations made it more difficult to detect through testing. It's believed to be at least as contagious than the original omicron variant, if not more so.

Existing COVID-19 vaccines are still considered as effective at preventing severe illness or hospitalization from the BA.2 subvariant as earlier variants.

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