BA.2 severity likely same as original omicron strain; hospitalizations fall in Midwest, South — 7 COVID-19 updates

The omicron subvariant BA.2 appears to have the same severity as the original omicron strain, a World Health Organization official said Feb. 2. 

The subvariant appears to be "overtaking BA.1 but does not show cause for alarm as of now," Boris Pavlin, MD, an epidemiologist and member of the WHO's COVID-19 response team, said in an online WHO briefing. Based on data from Denmark, where BA.2 has overtaken BA.1, the subvariant does not seem to be more severe than BA.1. 

"Looking at other countries where BA.2 is now overtaking, we're not seeing any higher bumps in hospitalization than expected," Dr. Pavlin said.

BA.2 is more transmissible than BA.1, though vaccinated people are less likely to spread it to others, according to a Danish study published Jan. 30 in the medical preprint server MedRxiv.   

Relative risk of severe disease from omicron appears lower than delta, but it still is not mild, Dr. Pavlin said.  

"Vaccination is profoundly protective against severe disease, including for omicron," he said. "BA.2 is rapidly replacing BA.1. Its impact is unlikely to be substantial, although more data are needed."

Six other updates: 

1. As of Feb. 2, COVID-19 hospitalizations are falling 14 percent nationally, according to data tracked by The New York Times.  

2. Hospitalizations are starting to noticeably drop in areas of the Midwest and South — such as in Illinois, Iowa and Alabama — according to Fox News.

3. The U.S. has reported more COVID-19 hospitalizations than other high-income countries during the omicron surge. Now, the same trend is appearing among COVID-19 deaths. 

4. Total COVID-19 deaths per capita are the highest in the U.S. compared to other large, high-income countries, according to The New York Times. Several countries had higher per capita deaths earlier in the pandemic, but the share of Americans who have died from COVID-19 since Dec. 1 is at least 63 percent higher than in other peer nations, according to the Times' analysis.

5. Daily U.S. death counts have surpassed the worst days of the delta surge last fall and are more than two-thirds higher than last winter's record numbers, when vaccines were not readily available to all. 

6. Some of the reasons for the disparities include a lower vaccination rate in the U.S. than in other large, wealthy nations. The U.S. has fallen even further behind administering booster shots, leaving large numbers of Americans with fading protection amid omicron. 


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