The Omicron subvariant BA.5 is now the dominant COVID-19 variant in the U.S., and it’s understandable to have questions—especially since this variant has quickly taken over. BA.5 first started as a teeny portion of cases in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) variant tracker in early May, only to now cause nearly 54% of cases in the U.S.
Given how quickly BA.5 has taken over and the fact that it’s happened during warmer months, plenty of people are wondering if you can get BA.5 outdoors. The short answer, infectious disease experts say, is yes, but it’s a little more complicated than that. Here’s what you need to know to protect yourself and loved ones from getting sick.
So, can you get BA.5 outdoors?
Yes, you can get BA.5 outdoors, but you could also contract other COVID variants outside, says Thomas Russo, M.D., professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo in New York. “Outdoors has never been a 100% safe zone,” he says. “You’re much less likely to get infected outdoors than you are indoors—that’s unequivocal. However, if you’re in close quarters with an individual in close quarters for a longer period of time, you’re still at risk of getting infected.” At the end of the day, your likelihood of catching Omicron comes down to proximity to an infected person, and airflow and ventilation of the space you’re in. “Virus disperses quickly outdoors and doesn’t fill an area over time as it does in poorly ventilated indoor spaces,” Dr. Russo says.
Factors like not having much wind in the outdoor area and the infectiousness of the variant matter, Dr. Russo says. “With BA.5, we think it’s more transmissible than earlier Omicron subvariants.” Meaning, that you’re more likely to get BA.5 outdoors than you were to get a different COVID variant, like Delta or even other forms of Omicron (like Stealth Omicron).
While BA.5 hasn’t been closely studied, “it’s the most contagious variant we’ve had so far,” says William Schaffner, M.D., an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “It stands to reason that, under certain circumstances, if you have a spreader at your barbecue party, they can spread it to people outdoors,” he says.