The BA.5 Covid-19 subvariant is now the most dominant strain in the country; the highly infectious variant has led to a surge in cases and hospitalizations both in hotspots like New York City and across the country in general, but public health action and messages are less aggressive than with previous outbreaks.
BA.5 usually causes familiar symptoms like fever, headache, muscle aches, cough, and sore throat, but can still cause serious illness, especially in people with pre-existing conditions. He has even entered the highest halls of power, with President Joe Biden doctor said in a letter Saturday that Biden is likely infected with BA.5. But little attention has been paid to the national plan to keep the subvariant in check, which the Biden administration released on july 12.
Tracking the rise of BA.5 is somewhat complicated due to an increase in rapid home tests to confirm infection, instead of testing in a clinical setting, which would reach health authorities and provide a more complete picture of the data. While the number of cases is nowhere near the level of infections due to omicron last winter, overall weekly hospital admissions totals have trended steadily upwards over the past month, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Furthermore, the available data may not capture the full magnitude of the BA.5 outbreak. In some places like san diego using sewage monitoring, the sewage analysis showed a massive increase in copies of the virus dumped into community sewage: 15.5 million copies per liter of sewage on Wednesday last week, vs. 8 million copies per liter from the same place the previous week, according to Paul Sisson of the San Diego Union-Tribune. That trend directly contradicts available data from the San Diego County health department, which actually showed positive rates declining 8.3 percent over the same period. For comparison, Sisson reported, there were 47.6 million copies per liter in the same location on January 9, 2022, during the omicron wave.
The advantage of BA.5 and its omicron subvariant BA.4 likely comes from a combination of increased transmissibility and mutations that improve their ability to evade immunity people have from previous infection or vaccination, Natalie Dean, associate professor of biostatistics and bioinformatics and epidemiology. at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University, told Reuters. “You don’t even need an increase in transmissibility to explain the advantage,” she said.
Given data showing low rates of serious illness and death in many places and fatigue with Covid-19 restrictions, many health authorities they are not tightening previously relaxed restrictions.
“I’m like everyone else: I hate wearing that mask. But more than that, I hate the idea that I could accidentally spread it to someone else,” Barbara Ferrer, Los Angeles County public health director, told the New York Times. “That is my biggest fear: that we are so eager to end this virus that we are becoming complacent.”
New York City is a hot spot. Does anyone care?
Throughout the pandemic, New York City has been a flashpoint; Crowded living conditions and public transportation make it easy for the virus to spread through the air. While the city’s BA.5 infection rate is nowhere near what it was in previous waves, it continues to rise, and may even be much higher than available data shows.
As the Times report points out, New York City’s test-and-trace program was removed this april under Mayor Eric Adams who contracted covid-19 that month. Restaurants no longer require proof of vaccination to enter, and the city’s mask mandate ended in March, although masks are still required on public transport. Despite the city’s uptick and his own health department’s recommendation that people cover up indoors, Adams has repeatedly repeated resisted bringing back the mask mandate.
“We are always reassessing our response efforts to make sure we are giving New Yorkers the best information possible and so they can make the right decisions for themselves,” Fabien Levy, press secretary for Adams, told Vox in an email. Nevertheless, like city and state, a news outlet that covers New York City and Albany politics, noted earlier this month that the New York City Health Department removed a color-coded alert system that included specific guidance on how to handle different levels of the Covid-19 outbreak, including the public sanitary measures to dictate. What the New York Times reported earlier this monththe system, which Adams unveiled in March, recommended that the mayor require face masks in crowded indoor and outdoor settings, and reinstate the vaccination requirement to enter restaurants and bars.
starting on Sunday, the website still says that the administration is “re-evaluating the city’s COVID Alert system” and advises users to “check back here for updates in the coming weeks.” It also recommends that New Yorkers “wear a high-quality mask in all indoor public places and around crowds outside,” as “there are currently high levels of COVID-19 transmission throughout the city.”
Instead of bringing back such measures, Adams’ office has promoted vaccination, home and community testing sites, and antivirals to address Covid-19.
“New York leads the nation in the delivery of tests and treatments and, in the last six months alone, we have delivered more than 35 million at-home tests to New Yorkers and delivered approximately 90,000 courses of Paxlovid,” Levy said in a statement. your email to Vox. “We review the numbers every day and will continue to follow the guidance of health experts to keep New Yorkers safe and healthy.”
But New Yorkers continue to get sick: Reported Covid-19 cases are up 22% in the past two weeks, hospitalizations are up 25%, and deaths are up 29%. according to the New York Times. Again, the numbers are still small in comparison; a daily average of 12 deaths is nothing like the daily averages in the spring of 2020. Vaccines and antivirals certainly help prevent serious illness, hospitalizations, and deaths, but they need to be complemented by other mitigation and support measures such as masking, as pointed out by Ed Yong in his article for the Atlantic earlier this month.
Things are not so clear from the White House either
Biden tested positive for Covid-19 on Thursdayand although he is reportedly still working and experience only mild symptoms, his age – he is 79 – puts him at higher risk of complications from the disease. He has been boosted twice, as Vox’s Dylan Scott and Li Zhou wrote Thursday, and is being treated with paxlovid. In a short video address posted on Twitter, Biden assured the public that he was feeling fine and that he was working hard.
thought he shared that he had been vaccinated and fully powered, did not give any guidance for those watching, nor did it encourage vaccinations or reinforcements, nor the wearing of masks indoors. “In the meantime, keep the faith,” she said. “It’s going to be OK.”
That’s not to say the White House hasn’t made any effort lately to address the prevalence of BA.5; On July 12, the administration released new guidance for managing the latest subvariant of Covid-19.
A Press release In announcing the strategy, it was acknowledged that BA.5’s apparent ability to evade at least some immunity “has the potential to cause the number of infections to increase in the coming weeks,” particularly where people are unvaccinated or where the Immunity from the vaccine is waning.
To address this, the White House proposal includes increasing access to antiviral treatments like the one Biden is taking, as well as continuing to encourage vaccination and booster absorption. Increasing the availability and access to free testing is also a key principle of the strategy, as is better ventilation, increasing access to Evusheld preventive treatment for immunocompromised people, and ensuring access to ventilators and clear indication of situations in which The use of masks is recommended.
That proposal at least presents a comprehensive, if not aggressive, approach to the new subvariant and “new normal” of life with covid-19. As experts have warned throughout the pandemic, relying on vaccines as a silver bullet, especially when a specific omicron vaccine booster months to go, it will not stop Covid-19 and it will not prevent new variants from forming. As Yong points out, we don’t know how those variants will beand we have no way of predicting the severity of the resulting disease, or the ways in which they will evade our immune responses in the future.
“Everyone hopes to get a degree of what they call endemicity — living with the virus at a level that doesn’t disrupt society,” Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious disease expert, told baron in an interview on Thursday. “That’s where I think we’re going. I don’t think we’re going to eradicate this.”
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