WASHINGTON — President Biden’s coronavirus response team warned Americans on Tuesday that they must do more to protect themselves against Covid-19, as the highly transmissible Omicron subvariant known as BA.5 fuels a new wave of infections, re-infections and hospitalizations across the country.
But their new strategy to combat the threat sounded a lot like the old one, couched as advice that they hope more people will follow: Get vaccinated or boosted even if you have already been infected; test if you feel sick; seek out therapeutics if you test positive and wear masks in crowded indoor spaces.
“Variants will continue to emerge if the virus circulates globally and in this country,” Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, Mr. Biden’s chief medical adviser for the pandemic, said at a White House news briefing. “We should not let it disrupt our lives. But we cannot deny that it is a reality that we need to deal with.”
BA.5 has recently become dominant among new U.S. cases; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated on Tuesday that it accounted for more than 60 percent of all new infections. The White House has been watching as it has marched across Europe and South Africa; experts say it appears able to evade some antibodies from previous infections and vaccines, though they say there is no evidence it causes more severe disease.
“The key feature of BA.5, that we know about, is its immune evasiveness — you can be fully vaccinated and boosted and still have a risk of a breakthrough infection,” Dr. Ashish K. Jha, Mr. Biden’s coronavirus response coordinator, said in an interview Monday. “You can be previously infected — even as recent as the last couple of months — and have a very high rate of reinfection.”
The warning from the White House comes as many Americans have turned their attention away from the pandemic. Mask mandates have been dropped in many states and cities, and most travelers no longer wear masks now that a federal judge has barred the Biden administration from requiring them in airports and on public transit.
A White House fact sheet said the administration would continue to work with state and local leaders to increase the number of Americans taking booster shots, with a particular focus on those 50 and older and those who are particularly vulnerable. Fewer than half of those vaccinated have received their first booster, according to the C.D.C., and just 28 percent of those older than 50 have received a second booster.
Officials are advising those eligible for boosters to get them even if they have been recently infected; Dr. Jha said getting a booster now would not preclude Americans from getting another one in the fall, when variant-specific booster shots are likely to be available.
The C.D.C. recommends that people who are sick with Covid-19 delay vaccination until they are recovered and have met the criteria to stop isolating. While the agency says people may choose to delay vaccination for up to three months, a spokeswoman said Tuesday that is “not a standard required time” to wait between infection and a vaccination.
“If you’ve not gotten a vaccine shot this year, go get one now,” Dr. Jha said. “It could save your life.”
The daily number of reported cases in the United States has remained steady at around 100,000, according to a New York Times database — a figure that many experts say is an undercount because so many people are testing at home. But as of Monday, hospitalizations have risen 17 percent over the past two weeks, according to federal data.