PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The United States is experiencing another spike in COVID-19 due to the highly transmissible BA.5 variant, prompting some regions to consider reinstating indoor masking rules.

In Rhode Island, data from the Health Department shows all five counties are considered to be in the “low” category when it comes to COVID-19 community levels. The weekly metric, determined by the CDC, is updated every Friday.

But across the country, COVID is spreading rapidly, with about 75% of Americans living in high or medium COVID risk areas.

The latest COVID-19 surge nationwide is driven by the highly transmissible BA.5 variant, which now accounts for 65% of cases, with its cousin BA.4 contributing another 16%. The variants have shown a remarkable ability to get around the protection offered by vaccination.

“If you got your booster, let’s say, last November or December, you don’t have as much protection against this virus as you’d like,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, White House COVID-19 coordinator and Dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, during an appearance on ABC’s This Week.

“One of the key messages coming out of this moment is if you are 50 or over, and if you have not gotten a shot this year, in the year 2022, it’s absolutely critical that you go out and get one now. It will offer a very high degree of protection,” Jha. said.

In Boston, the city reported Friday that cases have increased nearly 40% over the past seven days. Hospitalizations are also rising, up 25% over the past week.

Despite the increases, instances of severe illness are still low.

“We are following our citywide trends closely, and we suggest that everyone follow recommended precautions to reduce risk,” said Dr. Bisola Ojikutu, Executive Director of the Boston Public Health Commission. “Based on current trends, it is essential that people protect themselves and others by wearing masks within indoor crowded settings, testing, isolating if they’re sick, and staying up to date with their vaccinations which will reduce the risk of severe illness from COVID-19.”  

In California, Los Angeles County, which is home to 10 million residents, is considering a return to a broad indoor mask mandate on July 29 if current COVID trends continue. It would be the first major population center this summer to reinstate rules requiring face coverings indoors.

“Local jurisdictions, cities, counties, states, should make decisions about mask mandates because communities are different,” Jha said.

“That said, CDC has very clear guidance on this as well, through their COVID community levels, and the CDC recommendation is that when you’re in a high zone, that sort of orange zone, as LA County is, people wearing masks indoors is really important, and it really will make a difference,” Jha added.