Hospitalizations and COVID-19 cases remain low in Chicago as well as in other areas of the nation. However, cases are increasing in parts of Europe or Asia thanks to the BA.2 subvariant.
Could this mean that we might see another COVID-19 spike in spring? It is possible because spikes in Europe tend not to foreshadow trends at the United States. Hannah Barbican, PhD is a virologist, genomic epidemiologist, and she is currently studying SARS-CoV-2 in the Regional Innovative Public Health Lab.
What We Know About Subvariant Ba.2
“BA.2 has been increasing globally for over a month and now it’s more than 50% of cases in many locations in Europe, Asia, and Africa,” Barbian states. China is also experiencing outbreaks of BA.2. “The U.S. has been somewhat behind, but now we are seeing a steady rise in BA.2 in America.” This trend was evident in wastewater samples from across the country.
Barbian, a REAL scientist, developed a test called a rapid variation PCR assay that detects BA.2 in samples taken from Chicago hospitals. Barbian estimates that BA.2 was responsible for approximately 15% of the cases in Chicago during the week of March 14. This is similar to the projections made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Is BA.2 causing a new wave in COVID-19 cases in Chicago? “Many European countries saw an increase in cases where BA.2 was at around 50% prevalence. She says that if this were true in the U.S., it could lead to BA.2 becoming 50% more prevalent within the next month. However, it is difficult to predict when it will happen. Warmer weather could slow down the increase in infections. This means that more people will be outside and less chance of transmission.
BA.2 seems to be more transmissible that the original omicron BA.1 version. However, the rise in COVID-19 outside of the United States could be due to countries “opening up” and eliminating mask mandates. A lot of people have not received their last booster or vaccine in a while, which may contribute to the waning of immunity.
Can Vaccines And Treatments Be Used To Combat Ba.2?
Barbian states that BA.2 is not more severe than the original Omicron variant and that vaccines are equally effective against it. Barbian states that if you were one of the almost half the U.S. citizens infected by the original omicron variant you may have some protection from BA.2, but this will diminish over time.
However, some COVID-19 treatments may not be as effective as the current monoclonal antibody treatment against BA.2. This is because the subvariant contains about 20 mutations to its spike protein, which differ from BA.1.
“Fortunately, FDA granted emergency authorization a few weeks back to bebelove mab,” states Mary Hayden MD. She is chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases of Rush University Medical Center and co principal investigator of ROFL. “But, given the constant evolution of the virus it is like trying to hit a moving target.
There’s No Need To Be Concerned About “Deltacron” Yet
Barbian believes such viruses are normal, despite media reports claiming that there is a recombinant SARS/CoV-2 virus. She says that when two viruses of very different origins are in circulation, it is a perfect environment to look for recombinants.
Barbian isn’t concerned about the recombinant viruses spreading or having unexpected biological properties. She says that the entire spike protein of recombinant viruses is basically all omicrons. This means that it will function exactly like an omicron.
Yes, There Is Already An Ba.3 Subvariant
Barbian states that viruses can mutate and that a BA.3 subvariant exists in global circulation. However, it doesn’t seem like it is spreading as much.
It’s not clear at this time what the next major variant will be. It could be a variant that is much more mild. It could be a more transmissible variant. She says it’s difficult to predict what will happen next.
SARS-CoV-2 is certain to never be eradicated. Because the virus can infect other animals such as deer and mink. She explains that even if the virus was eradicated in humans, it could still spread to humans through animal populations.
Is The Covid-19 Pandemic Over?
Barbian said that scientists and the public have different definitions of COVID-19 and whether or not we are closer to ending the pandemic.
She says that endemic means that hospitals won’t be overwhelmed and we won’t have to wear masks again. We are still at the stage where large outbreaks could occur that are hard to predict. An endemic virus is extremely predictable and we are not yet at that point.
Barbian emphasizes that whatever the next major variant, or subvariant, Barbican says we have all the tools necessary to manage it. She says that if a new variant is discovered, we might have to wear masks for a couple of months rather than throughout the year. And we might have to maintain social distancing only when it’s necessary. These measures will be effective with every new variant and may still be needed from time to time.