Vermont hospitals are seeing a slight uptick in cases of the latest subvariant of the coronavirus.

Health officials say that, like previous subvariants, the BA.5 omicron subvariant is more transmissible, which has led to higher hospitalization rates.

Rick Hildebrant, chief medical information officer at the Rutland Regional Medical Center, said the number of cases “has gone slightly up but not significantly. While there are some states really struggling with surges, Vermont is at the lowest amount of cases.” 

According to the Centers for Disease Control, cases of the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants account for close to 60% of cases in the Northeast.

“It does seem like we’re starting to get into an every few months cycle,” said Timothy Lahey, infectious disease specialist at the UVM Medical Center. “The challenge is it’s not exactly predictable.”   

State health officials do not believe the virus is more severe than previous strains, but according to Vermont’s weekly surveillance report, hospitalizations are up despite case counts in Vermont being down.

According to the CDC, case counts could be as much as ten times higher than what states are reporting.

“Case counts that we’re reporting are confirmed probable cases,” said Patsy Kelso, state epidemiologist for the Vermont Department of Health. “They don’t include the vast majority of tests that are done by people at home. So, we really have limited data on the true number of cases.”  

Lahey says people should pay more attention to the number of hospitalizations rather than the number of cases.

“If they both go up, we could mask up more frequently like in grocery stores, but if it turns out that the number of cases goes up but the number of hospitalizations doesn’t, then we may not need to,” he said.

Vermont health experts say the best way to protect is to be up to date on vaccinations and booster shots. It may not prevent infection from BA.5, but it will likely keep you out of the hospital

State health officials say they will continue to monitor BA.5 and expect to see a new booster shot available in the fall.