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Omicron "Subvariant" a Threat, Say Virus Experts

BA.2 is spreading rapidly, here's how to stay safe.
FACT CHECKED BY Alek Korab

Just as mask mandates have been lifted across the country because of a drop in COVID cases, comes news that a "subvariant" of Omicron—known as BA.2—is spreading rapidly in one of COVID's first epicenters, New York. Cases of BA.2 are doubling every two weeks there, state health data shows, and BA.2 now represents about 10% of sequenced cases. Are we headed toward another surge that will reverse the pandemic's trajectory? Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.

1

What We Know About BA.2

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Experts say that BA.2:

  • Is about 30% more contagious than BA.1 (Omicron), which was around four times more contagious than its predecessor, Delta.
  • Is about as severe as BA1. 
  • May evade the protection of the monoclonal antibody treatment sotrovimab. (The Omicron variant had already rendered two other monoclonals ineffective. The FDA recently granted emergency use authorization for bebtelovimab, which is effective against BA.2)
  • Antiviral pills are still expected to work against this subvariant.

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2

Are You Protected Against BA.2?

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Experts say that if you've been vaccinated and boosted, or if you had Omicron, you are less likely to contract BA.2, although breakthrough infections are still possible. 

A preprint study published in late February found that infection with Omicron provided strong protection against infection with BA.2. "People who've recently had a Covid-19 infection caused by Omicron or Delta can be reinfected by the emerging BA.2 subvariant, but such cases appear to be uncommon, afflict mostly those who are unvaccinated and result in mostly mild infections," CNN reported.

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3

Will BA.2 Disrupt the Pandemic?

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"I don't think it means a lot because there's pretty good cross-immunity between BA.1 and BA.2 and because the omicron wave was so recent," Dr. Bruce Farber, chief of public health and epidemiology at Northwell Health and the chief of infectious diseases at North Shore University Hospital and LIJ Medical Center, told Gothamist on Monday. "People clearly have good immunity. It's very good immunity for 90 days. It's probably decent immunity for six months."

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4

But BA.2 Still Brings Risks

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But other experts worry that BA.2 poses a threat to unvaccinated people—and by turns, to all of us. The more chances a variant or subvariant has to spread, the higher the possibility it will mutate, potentially to a form that evades vaccines or treatments. 

"So it's possible that we have even fewer resources for treating infections, say, in immunocompromised individuals or individuals that otherwise have a breakthrough infection," Dr. Sam Scarpino, the managing director of pathogen surveillance at the Rockefeller Foundation's Pandemic Prevention Institute, told Gothamist.

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5

How to Stay Safe Out There

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Follow the fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don't travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor whose health and lifestyle content has also been published on Beachbody and Openfit. A contributing writer for Eat This, Not That!, he has also been published in New York, Architectural Digest, Interview, and many others. Read more about Michael
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