The dominant BA.5 subvariant of Covid-19 signals is still unclear to us

The BA.5 subvariant of Covid-19 is now the most prevalent strain in the country; The highly contagious variant has also led to an increase in hospitalizations in hot spots like New York City and overall, but public health actions and messages are less aggressive than in previous outbreaks.

BA.5 usually causes familiar symptoms like fever, headache, muscle aches, cough and sore throat, but can still cause serious illness, especially in people who already have it. It even entered the highest halls of power, with President Joe Biden’s doctor saying in a letter Saturday that Biden may have been infected with BA.5. But the Biden administration’s July 12 national plan to take control of the subspecies has received little attention.

Tracking the growth of BA.5 is a little more complicated because rapid home testing to confirm infection has increased, rather than clinical testing, which sends test results to health authorities and provides a more complete picture of the data. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while the number of infections due to Omicrons was almost zero last winter, the total number of hospitalizations showed a steady upward trend last month.

Furthermore, the full extent of the BA.5 outbreak may not be captured by available data. In some places, such as San Diego, that use wastewater monitoring, wastewater analysis has shown a sharp increase in the number of copies of the virus released into the community’s sewers — 15.5 million copies per liter of wastewater on Wednesday of last week, up from 8 million in the same area earlier. per week, reported Paul Sisson of the San Diego Union-Tribune. This trend is in direct contrast to data from the San Diego County Health Department, which actually showed an 8.3 percent drop in cases over the same period. For comparison, Sisson reported, there were 47.6 million copies per liter during the homeron wave on January 9, 2022.

The recent predominance of BA.5 and its other omicron subvariant, BA.4, results from a combination of infection and mutations that increase the ability of individuals to avoid previous infection or vaccination, says Natalie Dean, associate professor of epidemiology. This was reported by the Emory University Rollins School of Public Health to Reuters. “You don’t need an increase in permeability to explain the advantage,” he said.

Given the low rates of severe illness and death in many places and data showing public fatigue with Covid-19 restrictions, many health authorities are not tightening restrictions that have already been eased.

“I’m like everyone else: I hate wearing that mask. But I hate the thought of accidentally infecting someone else,” Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer told the New York Times. we are.”

New York City is a hot place. Does anyone care?

New York City has become a hotspot during the pandemic; Crowded environments and public transit make it easier for the virus to spread through the air. While the city’s BA.5 infection rate is nowhere near the peak of previous waves, it continues to trend upward — and may even be much higher than available data suggests.

New York’s testing and surveillance program was phased out this month under Mayor Eric Adams, who contracted Covid-19, the Times reported. Restaurants no longer require proof of vaccination to enter, and the city’s mask mandate ended in March, but masks are still required on public transportation. Despite the city’s push and its health department’s recommendation that people wear masks indoors, Adams has repeatedly resisted bringing back the mask mandate.

“We are constantly re-evaluating our response efforts to provide New Yorkers with the best information possible and make informed decisions for them,” Adams spokeswoman Fabien Levy said. However, City & State, which covers New York politics, noted earlier this month that the city’s health department has removed a color-coded alert system that contained specific guidelines for public health measures, including different levels of the Covid-19 outbreak. I am legit. The New York Times reported earlier this month that the system, which Adams unveiled in March, suggested the mayor require masks indoors and in crowded outdoor spaces and require vaccines to enter restaurants and bars.

As of Sunday, the website still says the administration is “re-evaluating the city’s COVID Alert system” and advises users to “check back here for updates in the coming weeks.” It also advises New Yorkers to “wear a high-quality face mask in all public places and around people outside” because “there is currently a high rate of transmission of COVID-19 across the city.”

Instead of bringing back such measures, Adams’ office promoted vaccinations, home and community testing sites and antivirals to combat Covid-19.

“New York leads the nation in testing and treatment, and over the past six months, we’ve tested more than 35 million New Yorkers at home and delivered nearly 90,000 courses of Paxlovide,” Levy said. his email is Vox. “Every day, we review the numbers and follow the guidance of public health professionals to keep New Yorkers safe and healthy.”

But New Yorkers continue to suffer, with a 22 percent increase in Covid19 cases, a 25 percent increase in hospitalizations and a 29 percent increase in deaths in the past two weeks, the Times reports. Again, the numbers are still small compared to the initial pandemic; The current daily average of 12 deaths is not the same as the spring 2020 daily average. Vaccines and antivirals can help prevent serious illness, hospitalizations and deaths, but as Ed Yong points out, they must be complemented by other mitigation measures and supportive measures such as wearing masks. on The Atlantic earlier this month.

Not everything is clear even from the White House

Biden tested positive for Covid-19 on Thursday and although he is still working and experiencing only mild symptoms, his age of 79 increases the risk of complications from the disease. As Vox’s Dylan Scott and Li Zhou reported Thursday, he has had two flare-ups and is being treated with Paxlovid. In a short video message posted on Twitter, Biden assured the public that he was feeling well and getting a lot done.

Although she shared that she had been vaccinated and fully recovered, she gave no instructions to onlookers – no encouragement to get vaccinated or boosted, or to wear a mask at home. “And keep your faith” “Everything will be fine.”

This is not to say that the White House has made no effort to address the spread of BA.5; On July 12, the administration issued new guidelines for the management of the latest Covid-19 subtype.

A press release announcing the strategy said BA.5’s ability to evade at least some immunity “could lead to an increase in the number of infections in the coming weeks,” particularly in areas where people are unvaccinated or where vaccine immunity is waning.

To address this, the White House’s proposal includes increasing access to the anti-viral treatment that Biden has adopted, as well as continuing access to the vaccine and stimulants. Increasing the availability and accessibility of free testing is a key tenet of the strategy, as well as better indoor ventilation, increased access to Evushield preventive treatment for immunocompromised people, increased availability of respirators and clear awareness of situations where masking is recommended.

This guidance represents at least a comprehensive, if not aggressive, approach to the new subtype and the “new normal” of living with Covid-19. Experts have warned that relying on vaccines as a silver bullet during the pandemic, especially the omeron vaccine booster, will not stop Covid-19 and prevent the emergence of new variants with months to go. As Yong points out, we don’t know what those variants will look like, and we can’t predict the severity of the resulting disease or the ways they will evade our immune responses in the future.

“Everybody is hoping to get to what we call endemic — a level where the virus doesn’t disrupt society,” Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, told Barron’s on Thursday. “I think that’s where we’re going. I don’t believe we’re going to get rid of it.”

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