Omicron subvariant surge coming, but scientists are optimistic

Published: Mar. 22, 2022 at 6:12 PM PDT
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PORTLAND, Ore. (KPTV) - It’s been more than a week since mask mandates were lifted in the Pacific Northwest, but a new Omicron subvariant is grabbing the attention of scientists.

The new subvariant called BA.2 or “Stealth Omicron,” has been appearing around the world. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 35% of new cases in the United States are the new subvariant. Associate Professor of Medicine at OHSU, Marcel Curlin, said BA.2 has been around since the Omicron variant emerged in November. It just took some time to start spreading.

“BA 1 and BA 2 probably came up around the same time but BA 1 got traction initially and got out of the gates a little bit faster,” Marcel said. “It is a bit different than BA 1. They’re closely related but BA-2 has number of mutations in it that BA-1 doesn’t have.”

One of those mutation’s is that the subvariant is more contagious than the original Omicron strain. He said the BA.2 But overall, Curlin said the subvariant is similar to the original strain as in it’s a milder illness.

“It’s infecting people in places that have been vaccinated or they’ve had COVID people before and so it’s not a naïve population without any heard immunity,” Curlin said.

Curlin said we may see a rise in cases over the next few weeks, something Europe is currently seeing as the BA. 2 becomes a dominant variant there. So the Pacific Northwest will likely, if not already, experience the subvariant. However, it will not be a surge that will bring mandated restrictions back.

“When COVID first emerged in 2019 and hit the world stage in early 2020 no one had COVID before so it was tearing through the population with great speed and causing a lot of havoc,” Curlin said. “Two years on, many of us have been vaccinated, many people have had COVID on top of that and so these variants are slower to get off the mark.”

Curlin said the new subvariant is an example of the pandemic transitioning into an endemic. He said the face the broader population has some sort of immunity, whether it’s being vaccinated, being infected with COVID-19, or both, it’s making it hard for any new variant to gain traction. However, he said it’s still a serious but the way it’s being attacked and prepared for is similar to how society approaches the seasonal flu.