With coronavirus cases rising in parts of Europe and Asia, scientists worry that an extra-contagious version of the Omicron variant may soon push cases up in the United States too. The U.S. will likely see a rise in cases caused by the Omicron descendant BA.2 starting in the next few weeks, according to Dr. Eric Topol, head of Scripps Research Translational Institute.
Experts are keeping their eyes on the mutation, a rare Delta-Omicron hybrid that they say “doesn’t pose much of a threat right now” but shows how adaptable the coronavirus can be. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious disease expert, told ABC’s “This Week” over the weekend that he also thinks the U.S. will likely face an “uptick” similar to what’s happening in Europe, particularly the United Kingdom, where BA.2 is the dominant strain. He said he doesn’t think it will be a “surge.”After about two months of falling COVID-19 cases, pandemic restrictions have been lifted across the U.S. Many people are taking off their masks and returning to indoor spaces like restaurants and theaters. “It’s inevitable we will see a BA.2 wave here,” Dr. Fauci said.
In the U.S., the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows COVID-19 cases overall have been trending down. But the share caused by BA.2 is up significantly; the variant accounted for about 35% of new infections reported last week. In the Northeast, it was about half.
Fauci on ABC is relatively optimistic about the BA.2 variant, says he doesn't think the US will see a major surge in cases and doesn't expect public health restrictions to be reimposed soon pic.twitter.com/0W0ouSYaPr
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) March 20, 2022
Experts say much still remains unknown about the BA.2 hybrid, but there’s no evidence it causes more severe disease, and it doesn’t look like it’s infecting many people. CDC researchers identified 9 samples, seven from the mid-Atlantic region in a study released Monday that hasn’t yet been peer-reviewed. Another new study shows that Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine and follow-up boosters remain more durable than scientists had previously believed.
— Eric Feigl-Ding (@DrEricDing) March 15, 2022
The new hybrid may not be cause for immediate concern, but top Biden administration aides are still hoping Congress will change their minds and continue to fund COVID relief.
"Our concern right now is that we are going to run out of money to provide the types of vaccines, boosters, treatments to the immunocompromised and others free of charge."
— WH Press Sec. Jen Psaki on the BA.2 COVID variant spread pic.twitter.com/2Z2boqu1Rl
— The Recount (@therecount) March 21, 2022
Vaccines appear just as effective against both types of omicron, but breakthrough infections are possible. And experts point out that about 74% of those 12 and older are fully vaccinated in the U.S, compared with 86% in the U.K.
Six classrooms at @CoonleyES have moved to masks required due to an outbreak. CPS parent: "It's a little early in the pandemic to be removing masks as a blanket measure, just because there's BA.2 going around, it's a much more contagious variant." #MaskingForAFriend #MaskUp 😷 pic.twitter.com/hNSq7XC6JX
— Activate Chicago Parents (@ChiParentsAct) March 21, 2022