A new version of the coronavirus that causes covid-19 has made its way through Europe and other parts of the world, and it now has been detected in the United States, including locally.
It is not a new strain, but rather a variant of a variant — a subtype of omicron, known as omicron BA.2.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week estimated that the BA.2 subvariant makes up nearly 25% of all new covid cases across the country, up from just 1 in 10 new cases a week prior, CBS News reported.
Despite the rise, case counts and hospitalizations have continued to decline nationwide.
Dr. Amesh Adalja, a Pittsburgh-based infectious disease and critical care expert, offered insight into what exactly is known about the subvariant and what it could mean for the return to normalcy the country has seen over the past several weeks.
Question: What do we know about BA.2?
Answer: The BA.2 type of omicron has been steadily increasing and appears to be more transmissible. There is no evidence that the symptoms differ from other subtypes of omicron.
Q: Will we see another surge?
A: It’s likely that, over time, cases will again rise. It’s unclear to what level. However, it is inevitable that with an ineradicable disease that cases would fluctuate and the virus would continue to mutate to become more transmissible and immune evasive. The goal with covid-19 is to shift illness to the mild spectrum and decouple cases from hospitalization, which has largely occurred due to population immunity and the medical countermeasures that are now available.
Q: Could yet another strain — in this case, a subtype of variant — hinder this return to normalcy we’ve eased into?
A: I do not think any variant will be able to erase all the protection immunity, monoclonals and antivirals give us. Cases may increase, but that’s not so concerning if they are largely outpatient. There needs to be a focus away from all cases to severe cases and hospitalizations. Normalcy, at this stage, is more a function of individual risk tolerance than anything the virus does.
Locally, according to the most recent data, cases have plummeted since the initial omicron surge in the early weeks of the year. By new federal standards, Allegheny, Westmoreland and most surrounding counties are considered low risk.
Allegheny County’s health director, Dr. Debra Bogen, addressed the subvariant in a briefing Wednesday.
Q: Has BA.2 surfaced locally?
A: We do get variant data on a small proportion of our positive cases in the county, and we have been tracking that BA.2 variant. The last time I looked, which was yesterday, 6% of the positive cases were BA.2. It’s still a relatively small amount in our county, and it’s been rising slowly. A couple of weeks ago, it was 2%, and now it’s 6%, so it’s not rising rapidly. When we got omicron here, it went from very low to 100% in a very short period of time.”
Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .