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Breakthrough COVID-19 cases are rare, but here's what to know if you've been exposed

A Virginia Beach epidemiologist said vaccinated people have the regular symptoms, but they are much milder if you even have symptoms at all.

NORFOLK, Va. — So far, 56% of Virginians are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and those vaccines are highly effective in preventing hospitalizations and deaths.

But what about the small percentage of breakthrough cases?

On Wednesday, folks headed to Maury High School in Norfolk to get vaccinated.

"Across Hampton Roads, we’re getting more and more people vaccinated. The hospitals are prepared. There’s not a surge on the hospitals at this point," said Paul Brumund, COO of Virginia Beach and Norfolk Health Departments. "We definitely want to keep it that way. That’s why we’re here to get vaccinated."

So what happens if you’re exposed to or infected with COVID-19 even after you're vaccinated?

Betty Rouse, an epidemiologist with the Virginia Beach Department of Public Health, said, for the most part, the type of symptoms are the same if you have any at all. 

"The symptoms that people with breakthrough infections are experiencing are way, way milder," she said. "The difference being a vast difference between the 10 days or so of really being sick that people talked about over the summer and are still talking about if they’re unvaccinated versus, 'well, I was sick for a couple of days.'"

As for what to do if you think you’ve been exposed, she said it's much easier to accommodate than if you're not vaccinated.

"Fully vaccinated people do not have to quarantine. We ask that they monitor themselves for symptoms for the same 14 days."

The CDC recommends getting a test three to five days after exposure and wearing a mask in public indoor settings for 14 days or until you receive a negative test.

That being said, breakthrough cases are still rare.

Since January, a little over 10,000 breakthrough cases have been reported in Virginia out of close to five million vaccinated people.

That’s less than 1%.

"Vaccine efficacy that was proposed for these vaccines was anything from 85 for Pfizer and Moderna up to maybe as high as 90, 92 percent effective in vaccine trials," said Rouse. "What we’re seeing is what we’d projected we’d see."

Again, the vaccines are proven to be highly effective against hospitalization and death. About 98% of people hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated.

As for cases in general, Rouse said they are still skyrocketing.

"What we've seen, particularly the last 10 days, approximately two weeks, is a rapidly escalating number of cases being reported in all age groups. It has probably quadrupled since the first of August."