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BA.5 Subvariant Drives Majority of Recent Covid-19 Cases

BA.5 Subvariant Drives Majority of Recent Covid-19 Cases

Highly infectious version represented nearly 54% of U.S. cases in week ended July 2, CDC estimates


By Jon Kamp, WSJ

Updated July 5, 2022 4:53 pm ET


The highly contagious Omicron BA.5 subvariant has taken over as the dominant version of the virus causing new Covid-19 cases in the U.S., the latest federal data show.


BA.5 represented nearly 54% of U.S. cases in the week ended July 2, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated Tuesday. It surpassed BA.2.12.1, the version of Omicron partly responsible for a persistent springtime surge in cases, which is now estimated to represent closer to one in four cases.


Another version known as BA.4, which is closely related to BA.5, and also ramped up recently, represents nearly 17% of cases, the CDC estimates.


Virus experts believe BA.5 is particularly adept at evading immune protections built up from prior infections and vaccines, giving it an advantage as it takes over as the major subvariant. This adds to the possibility people will contract Covid-19 repeatedly while facing the risk of developing complications like long-running and sometimes debilitating symptoms.


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The U.S. is immersed in a prolonged case surge that began this spring, fueled by other versions of Omicron, and appears to have at least plateaued at a high level. At the same time, hospitalizations and deaths have remained at more muted levels as built-up immune protections from vaccines and prior infections help tamp down on more severe cases, even as the virus continues to easily spread.


The U.S. seven-day moving average for new Covid-19 cases has mostly hovered slightly above 100,000 a day since May, according to CDC data through last week, before the July Fourth holiday temporarily slowed reporting. These cases likely represent a fraction of actual infections due to at-home testing states generally don’t track, epidemiologists say.


Public-health experts believe BA.5 will at least extend this trend of elevated cases, which come at a time many people have abandoned other mitigation measures like wearing masks in public places while also returning to more normal patterns of travel and social gatherings.


Hospitalizations remain far below levels seen in prior peaks, but there are signs of upward pressure, the latest federal data show. Such numbers can reflect the level of virus in the community, as a portion of Covid-19 hospitalization data reflects patients who needed care for other reasons, but tested positive during screening.


The seven-day moving average for confirmed, prior-day hospital admissions recently surpassed 5,000 a day for the first time since late February, data from the Department of Health and Human Services show. The U.S. in early April was averaging less than 1,500 new admissions a day.


Meantime, the U.S. recently averaged slightly more than 300 deaths a day. A year ago the average dipped to slightly above 200 a day, reflecting a lull in cases as vaccinations rose and a respite before the Delta and then Omicron variants took hold.

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