New subvariants of COVID-19 cause concern


The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) reported 2,780 active cases in West Virginia as of Wednesday, July 13, with 56 cases credited from Upshur County. There are growing concerns in the area and nationwide secondary to subvariants of COVID-19 specifically variant BA.5.

On Tuesday July 12, The White House held a press briefing via teleconference regarding the COVID-19 Response Team and Public Health Officials. The briefing began with an opening remark by White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha, “Today, we’re going to be focusing on BA.5. Dr. [Rochelle] Walensky, after I speak, will provide an update on the state of the pandemic and BA.5 in the United States. Then Dr. [Anthony] Fauci will follow with a discussion about what we know about the science of BA.5. But first, I want to talk about how we view this moment. And I want to talk about our strategy for managing BA.5. As you’ll hear from Dr. Walensky, we have been tracking BA.4 and BA.5 for months. We’ve been clear-eyed that these kinds of subvariants were always a possibility.”

Dr. Jha continued to report that the virus has been evolving rapidly and stated, “BA.5 is something we’re closely monitoring and, most importantly, we know how to manage it. Dr. Fauci will discuss in much greater detail, but I want to emphasize: We can prevent serious illness. We can keep people out of the hospital and especially out of the ICU. We can save lives. And we can minimize the disruptions caused by COVID-19. And even in the face of BA.5, the tools we have continue to work…

“We encourage all Americans to get vaccinated if they haven’t already. Americans aged 5 and above should get their first booster shot within or after five months after the initial vaccination. And if you haven’t, don’t delay. And for people who are 50 years of age or older, my message is simple: If you have not gotten a vaccine shot in the year 2022, please go get another vaccine shot. My second message to all Americans is we have highly effective treatments that work against BA.5, including Paxlovid. This is an oral antiviral that reduces the risk of hospitalizations and death by 90%.”

Dr. Rochelle Walensky then took the lea, stating, “Over the past several weeks, Omicron sublineages BA.4 and BA.5 have been increasing in the United States. These are sub lineages of the Omicron variant, or variations of the initial Omicron strain, and decedents of the virus that initially circulated in 2020. CDC has been closely monitoring both BA.4 and BA.5 since it first emerged in South Africa. And we’ve been reporting on these sublineages in the United States since their detection in April. On this slide, CDC’s weekly Nowcast estimate indicates that BA.5 is predicted to represent 65% of circulating variants, and BA.4 is predicted to represent 16%. Omicron sub lineage BA.2.12.1 is predicted to be most of the remainder of circulating virus, at about 17%. These data will be made available later today on CDC’s COVID Data Tracker.We do not know yet about the clinical severity of BA.4 and BA.5 in comparison to our other Omicron subvariants, but we do know it to be more transmissible and more immune evading. People with prior infection, even with BA.1 or BA.2, are likely still at risk for BA.4 or BA.5.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci also spoke, “As Rochelle and I have said, even when you’re vaccinated, you get good protection against severe disease. If quantitatively you get a lot of infections, a certain proportion of those are going to be severe disease. And that’s the reason why we’re seeing an uptick in hospitalization.”

Dr. Jha returned to the conversation, discussing Test to Treat sites, available vaccines and treatments, as well as proactive and protective measures. “We’ve built up a large network of Test to Treat sites. Let me talk about Test to Treat. These sites are great. People can walk in; they can get tested. If they’re positive, they can speak with a medical provider. And if they’re eligible, they can get a prescription and have that prescription filled all in one convenient stop. And if you test positive in the days and weeks ahead, please consult your healthcare provider about your eligibility for treatments or please visit COVID.gov to find a Test to Treat location where you can get tested and treated all in one place. Treatments can save your life.

“Now, vaccines and treatments will help prevent serious illness and death. We also need to make sure we reduce the spread of illness, and we have several tools that help do that. So, let’s start with talking about testing. As we face BA.5, here’s how we think about testing. Before attending a large, indoor gathering or visiting indoors with a high-risk immunocompromised individual, please consider taking a test. That’s what I do. You don’t want to be the person who brings COVID to your grandparents or COVID to a wedding. The administration had made — has made tests widely available. We’ve required health insurers to cover at-home tests for free. We’ve been sending free tests straight to households through COVIDTests.gov. Testing not only helps you identify whether you’re infected, but it helps prevent spread. Another thing that helps both prevent infections and spread is masks. There is broad consensus in the scientific community that that wearing a high-quality mask in indoor, public spaces is an important tool to control the spread of COVID-19. It prevents you from getting infected and it prevents you from spreading it to others.”

Yale Medicine elaborated on the variant BA.5 which is a variant of Omicron. “According to the CDC, the Omicron variant spreads more easily than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus and the Delta variant. In its early days, the variant caused an alarming spike in COVID-19 cases in South Africa—they went from 300 a day in mid-November to 3,000 a day at the end of that month. In the first months of 2022, an Omicron subvariant called BA.2 began to spread even faster than other Omicron variants. BA.4 and BA.5 are thought to be even more transmissible,” as noted by Yale Medicine.

Yale Medicine also noted that scientists observed a key factor in variant BA.5 in which, “Unlike Delta and other coronavirus variants, it carries an abundance of mutations—about 50 in all, including 26 that are unique to the variant—and more than 30 on the spike protein, which is the viral protein that vaccines train the immune system to recognize and attack.” Scientists conclude that Omicron’s variants are more transmissible secondary to its ability to evade some immune responses, “especially in people who were previously infected, but not vaccinated.”

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