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So, Not Done? ‘Stealth’ Omicron Cases Are Doubling In U.S., Data Show
High angle view of young woman painting with roller on red COVID-19 virus over white background
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It’s over!

Or is it?

States across the U.S. are removing mandates for masks, with Hawaii set to be the last on March 26. But scientists say a “stealth” Omicron subvariant, BA.2, has been moving steadily across the country.

“Cases of this particular omicron subvariant, one of a few, keep popping up and have roughly doubled the past few weeks in the U.S., according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data estimates,” the Miami Herald reported on Wednesday. “It now makes up 11.6% of overall virus cases as of March 5 since it began doubling as of Feb. 5.”

“All in all, I think we’re really gonna be OK and I don’t think BA.2 is gonna be problematic like omicron,” Dr. Thomas Russo, an infectious disease doctor and professor and chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Buffalo, said, according to the Herald.

“In some parts of the world, the BA.2 subvariant has replaced the original omicron strain, known as BA.1, as the most dominant even as global cases go down, the World Health Organization said in a March 8 statement,” the report said.

The new variant has been detected in every U.S. state, according to a recent report. The variant, which didn’t get its own Greek letter name, is more contagious than its brother, but vaccines are effective against it, scientists say.

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 show 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.

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 and follow him on Twitter @josephcurl.

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