A new COVID variant is spreading quickly across New Jersey a month after it was first detected in the state, new data released this week shows.
The BA.2 variant appears to be on its way to becoming the dominant COVID strain in the region, having more than doubled in prevalence in two weeks, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
On Thursday, Gov. Phil Murphy said he expects cases to rise in New Jersey due to surges seen in parts of Asia and Europe. But he said he doesn't expect to reinstate "universal statewide mandated protective measures."
It is unclear how much of an impact BA.2 will have on New Jersey and whether it is as severe as prior strains.
BA.2 is considered a "sublineage" of the highly transmissible omicron variant called BA.1, which was responsible for the surge that hit New Jersey hard from mid-December through mid-January.
The New BA.2 Omicron Variant - A More Contagious COVID-19 Variant and How to Protect Against It
After a temporary lull, the COVID-19 fire appears to have reignited around the world, with several countries staring at a fresh wave of infections. China, the United States of America and Europe are currently witnessing a dramatic case surge, which is being driven by the Omicron’s subvariant named BA.2, also referred to as the ‘stealth’ Omicron.
First identified in South Africa in November 2021, this version of the COVID-19-causing novel coronavirus has several mutations, of which 20 — located in the spike protein — are shared with the original Omicron.
But how dangerous is this subvariant and what does its global spread mean for India? Listed below are answers to some frequently asked questions related to stealth Omicron.
Firstly, why is this BA.2 subvariant referred to as the ‘stealth’ variant?
This Omicron subvariant has been given the name ‘stealth’ because it is difficult to detect. This is due to the fact that its spike protein is missing some key mutations which are necessary for rapid PCR tests to identify the coronavirus infection.
How severe is an infection caused by stealth Omicron?
The WHO has indicated that this BA.2 variant is likely to have the same level of severity as the original Omicron variant. Moreover, it has urged the public health authorities to continuously monitor BA.2 as a distinct sub-lineage of Omicron.
Meanwhile, initial data from population-level reinfection studies has shown that if an individual has previously been infected with the BA.1 subvariant of Omicron, then he or she may possess added protection against getting reinfected by the BA.2 subvariant.
What are the symptoms of a stealth Omicron infection?
As per the WHO, this variant primarily affects the upper respiratory tract and not the lungs, thereby eliminating symptoms such as loss of taste or smell and shortness of breath.
Its symptoms mainly include dizziness and extreme fatigue, along with fever, coughing, sore throat, sore hand, muscular fatigue, cold and elevated heart rate.
These symptoms usually appear within two to three days of infection.
What could stealth Omicron’s impact be on India?
According to experts, India has lesser reasons to worry about the stealth Omicron as compared to other already-impacted countries, as Indians possess a hybrid immunity against multiple variants of the COVID-causing coronavirus. However, this hasn’t been the case in countries like China, where vaccination rates haven’t been as high in certain age groups.
Therefore, instead of a sub-variant, a brand new coronavirus variant is much more likely to drive the next worrisome wave of cases in India.
Nevertheless, the WHO has taken cognisance of this the rising infections in China, the US and Europe, and has urged the entire world to remain vigilant of this variant.
India, too, has issued a precautionary warning, with the Union Health Ministry urging all states and union territories to adhere to the five-fold strategy of 'test-track-treat-vaccinate and COVID-19 behaviour'.
Mar 16, 2022 - The Omicron subvariant BA.2 now accounts for almost one quarter of new COVID-19 infections across the United States, according to estimates released this week by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
For the week ending March 12, BA.2 made up 23.1% of new cases, the CDC said in its “Nowcast” estimates. That’s up from 13.7% of new cases for the week ending March 5, 7.1% for the week ending Feb. 26, and 4.
1% for the week ending Feb. 19.
BA.2 accounts for 39% of cases in New York and New Jersey and about the same amount in New England, CBS News said. The CDC map shows BA.2 accounting for 12.4% of new cases in the Southeast and 26.2% in the Northwest.
The CDC says it will be updating its Nowcast estimates each Tuesday.
“The median time from specimen collection to sequence data reporting is about 3 weeks,” the agency said. “As a result, weighted estimates for the most recent few weeks may be unstable or unavailable. CDC’s Nowcast is a data projection tool that helps fill this gap by generating timely estimates of variant proportions for variants that are circulating in the United States.
BA.2 is dominating the number of infections in many nations, especially in European nations that are reporting COVID surges even as governments lift many COVID safety restrictions. The United Kingdom recently said BA.2 makes up the majority of cases there. China, which had successfully tamped down COVID surges, is also grappling with a spike in BA.2 cases.
Even as BA.2 makes up a greater proportion of U.S. COVID cases, overall COVID cases and hospitalizations continue to drop in many states.
"Although the proportion of infections with BA.2 is increasing in the U.S., COVID-19 cases are now declining, so it is likely that absolute numbers of BA.2 infections are not increasing as quickly as they might seem from just looking at the proportion that are BA.2," Deborah Dowell, MD, the CDC's chief medical officer for the agency's COVID-19 response, said over the weekend, according to CBS News.
She noted that BA.2 apparently is not taking root in the United States as quickly as in other places.
"The speculation I've seen is that it may extend the curve going down of case rates of Omicron but is unlikely to cause another surge the way we've seen that we saw initially with Omicron," Dowell said.