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It doesn’t have a name, but it’s everywhere.
Just as Omicron fades, a new variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 has now been detected in every U.S. state, according to a new report. The variant, which didn’t get its own Greek letter name and is known simply as Omicron BA.2, is more contagious than its brother, but vaccines are effective against it.
The subvariant was first found in Europe in January and has already spread across the world “becoming the leading strain behind new coronavirus infections in at least 18 countries,” the report by Fortune magazine said.
“A study from Denmark, where stealth Omicron rapidly became the dominant lineage of the virus, sampled 263 cases of COVID reinfection from stealth Omicron in the country, and found that reinfections were nearly four times as common for people who had recovered from the Delta variant than those who had come down with Omicron,” Fortune said. “The good news from the Danish study is that prior infection with Omicron and vaccination seemed to be enough to provide abundant protection to the new strain.”
“Other studies have also found that antibodies from the original Omicron strain were able to provide strong protection against stealth Omicron. This survey cataloging COVID reinfections in the U.K. from early February did not identify any cases where a stealth Omicron reinfection followed an Omicron infection,” the report said.
Fortune cited Eric Topol, a genomicist at Scripps Research in La Jolla, California, who said early data on the subvariant is “reassuring” to him. “Instead of thinking that [Omicron BA.2] is the new bad variant, I think we can put that aside. I see it as not a worry,” Topol told Nature.
But early data shows the subvariant is likely more transmissible. “A study in Japan released at the end of February found that the BA.2 strain could be as much as 30% more transmissible than the original Omicron variant, which was already the most contagious form of the disease we have encountered so far during the pandemic,” the Fortune report said.
Meanwhile, one scientific model for COVID-19 cases now estimates that some 73% of Americans are currently immune to Omicron, and that figure could jump to 80% by the middle of March, according to a report.
“About half of eligible Americans have received booster shots, there have been nearly 80 million confirmed infections overall and many more infections have never been reported,” according to the Associated Press.
“We have changed,” Ali Mokdad, a professor at the University of Washington, told the wire service. “We have been exposed to this virus and we know how to deal with it.”
“‘I am optimistic even if we have a surge in summer, cases will go up, but hospitalizations and deaths will not,’ said Mokdad, who works on the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation model, which calculated the 73% figure for The Associated Press,” the AP wrote on Thursday.
Joseph Curl has covered politics for 35 years, including 12 years as White House correspondent, and ran the Drudge Report from 2010 to 2015. Send tips to [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @josephcurl.