Dance studio

Omicron BA.5 sub-variant: Empower Dance Studio in Durham returns to masks amid the final omicron sub-variant

Like dancing to the beat, Empower Dance Studio found itself going back and forth, but with COVID-19 protocols and what to do with masks as the coronavirus continues to mutate.

The latest omicron BA.5 sub-variant demonstrating owner Nicole Oxendine’s decision to be consistent, after the mask mandate was lifted at Durham in March.

“Masks off, we’re good, we can come back,” Oxendine said. “And then it was like no, mask. I was like you know what, what we’re going to do is keep it pretty consistent for us.”

Durham County is one of many in North Carolina with high COVID-19 community levels, according to the CDC.

As contagious as BA.5 can be, with spikes in daily infection rates, Duke University’s Dr. David Montefiori said the waves will continue to occur, but are not as severe as before.

“It’s because we finally built sufficient population immunity against vaccinated, infected, or a combination of the two,” Montefiori said. “Let him start controlling this virus, to some extent.”

There are more breakthrough cases with BA.5, but people aren’t being hospitalized or dying as much as before, according to Montefiori.

“What’s happening here is the antibodies that the vaccine induces in your body, they’re three times less effective against the original omicron BA.1,” Montefiori said. “And they’re ten times less effective against the BA.5 omicron variant. So now, because these variants have evolved to partially escape the sight of these antibodies, that’s why we’re seeing more breakthrough infections than this that we have seen before.”

As more adults become eligible for a 4th booster, Dr. David Wohl of UNC Health discussed the misunderstanding of vaccine protection.

“They protect you from infection,” Wohl said. “It’s not as good as before for previous parents, but for BA.5 your booster will protect you. It won’t be 100% but you’d rather have armor…than no armor.”

For Oxendine, it’s an ongoing effort to learn to live with the virus, but not impossible to do.

“I just don’t want to go back to that place where we had to close, we’re forced to close as a business,” Oxendine said. “Put in the mindset that it’s not over, but it’s just how can we live in space and in this with this disease?”

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