Here’s what experts say could happen to BA.2 in the US

For the past two years, the United States has been stuck in cycle of COVID-19 cases spike and lull. Cases spike, then drop — and the process repeats.

Many times, these spikes happen before case rates rise in Europe – such as before last year’s Delta and the start of last winter’s Omicron spike – which is why experts has carefully monitored the recent increase in cases there. More than 5.2 million cases of COVID-19 were reported across Europe in the week ending March 20, According to data from the World Health Organizationand countries including the UK have also reported increased hospitalization rate.

The spike could be partly due to BA.2 . variant, a relative of Omicron that studies show is at least 30% more contagious than Omicron. The number of cases reported in Europe was roughly the same in the week ending March 20 as in the previous week – suggesting a high probability – but countries including Germany, the Netherlands and the UK are still reporting high levels. high infection.

The question now is whether the US will follow in Europe’s footsteps as before. Approximately 35% of the sequenced COVID-19 cases in the United States from March 13-19 were due to BA.2, According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In the CDC surveillance area that includes Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, more than half of all cases are now associated with the variant. Wastewater monitoring data also shows that virus levels are increasing in some parts of the country, especially the Northeast.

No one knows for sure what will happen next, and some experts are split in their predictions – but the consensus seems to be a cautious optimism.

Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the White House and head of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on March 20 there there will probably be an “up” in US cases this spring, but “hopefully, we won’t see an increase. I don’t think we’ll make it.”

Syra Madad, an epidemiologist at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, agrees that there is likely to be an increase in cases and possible hospitalizations due to BA.2, but she does It is hoped that widespread immunity in the population — through vaccination or pre-Omicron infection — will prevent a large spike.

Although he very recent predictions of the impending BA.2 surge in the US, Dr. Eric Topol, founder of the Scripps Research Interpreting Institute, says he is now very hopeful. It may take a few more weeks to see what BA.2 will do in the US, so nothing is certain – but if the US follows the trend in Europe, Topol said he expects that number of cases. will start to increase significantly. now, because BA.2 was popular in the United States. Instead, the United States is currently reporting about 27,000 new infections per daylowest average figure since summer 2021.

“The fact that we didn’t see anything was surprising,” Topol said. “In my view, I’m gratified because I like being wrong when trying to predict that something bad might happen.”

Ali Mokdad, professor of health metrology at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, said the US winter Omicron surge could provide some armor against a new wave. By some estimateat least 40% of the US population is infected in Omicron wave, although it’s hard to say for sure because many people have used rapid home tests that don’t count toward official cases. Some preliminary studies show that Mokdad says that people infected with the original Omicron variant are unlikely to get sick from BA.2 — so a high level of natural immunity, combined with vaccine coverage, could help prevent the rise, Mokdad said. (The vaccines don’t fight Omicron as well as earlier variants, but they still provide strong protection: while the original Omicron variant circulated, fully vaccinated people did not. Less than 2.5 times tested positive for COVID-19 compared with unvaccinated individuals, and the mRNA-based injections still at least 90% efficiency to prevent death and illness severe enough to require mechanical ventilation.)

Read more: It’s time to rethink your COVID-19 risk tolerance

Then why did BA.2 take off in European countries that also experience an increase in Omicrons during the fall and winter and have higher vaccination and booster rates than the US? It’s still unclear, but timing may play a part. BA.2 begins to spread in Europe during the winter months, when people are mostly indoors and the pathogen is contagious. Many European countries have also recently dropped restrictions like mask regulations, opening the door to an increase in infections, Mokdad said. Impaired immunity from vaccines and previous infections may also play a role, he said.

But — for better or for worse — many parts of the United States were and are living most do not take precautions against COVID-19 for months, so Mokdad doesn’t expect BA.2 to cause a big system shock here. His models suggest the US will see a steady decline in cases through the spring and summer, before they rise again in the winter as people are forced to stay indoors. However, if another new variant emerges, that could alter the forecasts.

Dr Ebony Hilton-Buchholz, associate professor of anesthesiology and healthcare at the University of Virginia, said that with or without the “next” surge, we are still in a surgery. The baseline for COVID-19 remains high, with hundreds of people dying every day. “We never left the first wave,” she said. “We need a top and a bottom, and we haven’t reached the bottom yet. We keep making new highs.”

Hilton-Buchholz says US policymakers should focus less on mistaking the pandemic timeline and more on promoting things that have proven to work, such as wear High quality maskAdvanced indoor ventilationand encourage everyone to get vaccinated — including with Rocket propulsionSo far not widely available in the US

Madad agrees that it is too early to give up on infection prevention measures. She said: “There is a dangerous narrative that cases are not important and it is all about hospitalization, but that ignores complications, such as Long COVID, can strike people who encounter even mild cases. To help prevent infections that can lead to complications, individuals may want to continue wearing masks even if they aren’t required to, she said.

Despite their optimism about BA.2, both Mokdad and Topol agree that the US is letting its public health measures and pandemic funding lapse too soon. Even if BA.2 doesn’t lead to a mutation, an entirely new variant – one for which humans do not have some natural immunity – could emerge at any moment and the United States will not ready to fight it. Congress did not include additional funding for COVID-19 relief in 3 month spending bill, which the White House said would jeopardize ongoing testing, treatment and vaccination efforts. Biden Administration requested an additional 22.5 billion dollars to pay for those programs and warn that there is not enough money currently to buy additional booster dose for all Americans, should they become necessary.

Insufficient funding could also make it more difficult to track the virus through testing, genome sequencing and wastewater monitoring, Topol noted, and there is little hope of stopping an increase, Topol noted. increase if you can’t see the incoming virus. (Madad suggest to order more Free rapid COVID-19 home test from the government now, while you still can.)

“We need to keep an eye on the ball,” said Mokdad. “We need to make sure we’re doing enough testing to know if we have a new variant and if we have a spike.”

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