In the last few weeks, former President Obama has been diagnosed with COVID-19, as has Hillary Clinton, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, and DC mayor Muriel Bowser. Late last week, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi tested positive as well. While their exact variant has not been made public, their diagnoses bring attention to the latest variant – a mutation of the Omicron variant called BA.2.
Currently, BA.2 is the most dominant COVID-19 virus variant in sixty-eight countries worldwide, including the United States. According to the World Health Organization, this particular mutation is 94 percent of sequenced omicron cases, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that the BA.2 mutation of the Omicron variant is present in 72 percent of new cases in the United States.
Most medical experts say they aren’t surprised that the BA.2 mutation is taking the lead as the predominant COVID-19 variant; like the initial Omicron variant, BA.2 is extremely contagious.
BA.2 Omicron was dubbed “stealth omicron” when it was first detected as a mutation about two months ago. BA.2 Omicron “lacks a genetic quirk,” and it appears to scientists studying the virus variant to be much like the Delta variant.
The BA.2 Omicron mutation is about thirty percent more contagious than the original Omicron, which is quite contagious itself. The caveat of the original Omicron, however, was its mildness. While Delta was highly contagious and was responsible for many hospitalizations and deaths in late 2021, Omicron lacks the severity of previous COVID-19 variants.
Both the original Omicron and BA.2 appear to have the same response to vaccines. The CDC recommends a booster shot to prevent the more severe effects of the virus.
At present, the United States is seeing an overall decline in COVID-19 infections, but, the BA.2 variant is creating an uptick in infection statistics in places such as New York, Arizona, and Illinois.
Health officials warn that these might not be accurate numbers, however. Because more individuals now have access to home tests, they might not be reporting a positive case. Furthermore, some individuals have forgone testing altogether. Because the symptoms of Omicron are relatively mild, they might not even have symptoms of the virus. Spokespeople from Representative Nancy Pelosi’s office say that she is asymptomatic, which is typical of an Omicron infection. (NOTE: It is unknown what variant of COVID-19 Speaker Pelosi is affected by, only that she has tested positive for COVID-19.)
Some medical experts liken the Omicron BA.2 variant as more of a “speed bump” or a “wave” than a surge in cases. They say much of this is due to regional vaccination rates and the timing of one’s last vaccination. Whether an individual has received a booster shot is also a part of this equation.
Most health officials won’t say that the world is in an endemic phase of the pandemic, however. There are still variants that could come in the future, and scientists are seeing hybrids and recombinants of COVID-19. Some of these recombinants include a hybrid of the Delta strain and the Omicron strain. Still others feature hybrids of BA.2 as well as BA.1 (the original Omicron variant).
Currently, world health officials and scientists are tracking a recombinant made up of elements of BA.1 and BA.2 nicknamed XE. This version of COVID-19 was originally seen in the United Kingdom in January 2022. There have been about 600 cases of this particular recombinant reported, and it is believed by health care experts to be about ten percent more contagious than the Omicron BA.2 mutation.
In an effort to fight one’s chances of contracting any mutation or variant of COVID-19, health officials advise not only getting vaccinated but to also take any booster shots recommended by the CDC.
However, much of the United States and the world over are experiencing “COVID fatigue.” Issues surrounding masking have become a highly politicized, and, individuals have grown weary of lockdowns. Many have gone back to simply washing their hands, keeping a safe distance from others, and staying at home if they begin to experience symptoms.