OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – COVID-19 cases are once again on the rise across the country, including Oklahoma.

In a Tuesday COVID-19 briefing featuring the COVID-19 Response Team, the White House and other public health officials, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH indicated that nearly 80 percent of all COVID cases in the U.S. right now can be linked to the subvariants.

“We do not know yet about the clinical severity of BA.4 and BA.5 in comparison to other Omicron subvariants, but we do know it to be more transmissible,” she said during Tuesday’s briefing.

The most recent data released by the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) also mirrored the sudden spike in cases.

“We at the State Health Department are continually monitoring COVID not only across the world but within the United States,” said Jolianne Stone, MPH, State Epidemiologist for OSDH.

Oklahoma health experts said Tuesday that the latest COVID variants are to blame for the sudden spike in cases, while adding that they are even more contagious than previous strains of the virus.

The new variants, labeled by experts as BA.4 and BA.5, are linked to the omicron strain of COVID-19.

“This is six times more contagious [than the original Alpha variant], so it’s spreading like wildfire,” added Dr. Mary Clarke, family physician and immediate past president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association.

The most recent seven-day average in Oklahoma documented nearly 1100 cases, including more than 200 hospitalizations (including 28 pediatric hospitalizations).

“That’s [1,100 cases] only the people that we know about,” said Dr. Dale Bratzler, OU’s Chief COVID Officer. “[And] we have seen hospitalizations start to go up primarily by the sheer number of people that are getting infected.”

Common symptoms of infection include runny nose, sore throat, headache, persistent cough and fatigue.

“The biggest [factor] that’s driving [the COVID spike in Oklahoma] is the same one that’s been reported nationally,” he continued, referring to the subvariant BA.5.

State specific data compiled on July 9 from OU Health using CDC data shows that “BA.2.12.1, BA.4, and BA.5 now represent 98.9 percent of all cases across the state”.

Nearly 70 percent of those cases are attributed to BA.5, alone.

Oklahoma doctors also said that it’s possible to get one of these latest variants of COVID, even if previously vaccinated or if someone has had COVID in the past.

“You have good COVID immunity for about 90 days; after that, your immunity falls off,” said Dr. Clarke.

“You may still get infected with this particular variant,” added Dr. Bratzler, also saying that while unvaccinated individuals are at a higher risk for infection, the chance of being hospitalized or experiencing complications for the disease are much less for those who have had a vaccine.

Experts said Tuesday a vaccine is still the best way to fight the virus, along with medication and masking.

“None of the [previous] recommendations have changed,” said Stone. “Think of your individual health and take measures to ensure that your health is protected.”

“[The vaccine] will decrease your risk of getting hospitalized and dying,” added Dr. Clarke.

“Anything’s better than nothing.”