Omicron subvariant may slow surge's fall + 2 more forecasts

The omicron subvariant BA.2 will not likely change the overall course of the pandemic, but could prolong the current surge in many parts of the world, scientists told The New York Times.

Emerging research suggests the subvariant does not cause more severe illness or thwart vaccines, but does spread more rapidly. Danish researchers say BA.2 is 1.5 times more transmissible than the original omicron strain, according to CNBC.

"This may mean higher peak infections in places that have yet to peak, and a slowdown in the downward trends in places that have already experienced peak omicron," Thomas Peacock, PhD, a virologist at Imperial College London, told the Times.

Trevor Bedford, PhD, a virologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle, estimates that about 8 percent of U.S. COVID-19 cases are BA.2 based on a recent analysis of viral sequences from COVID-19 test samples. 

Nathan Grubaugh, PhD, an epidemiologist at the Yale University School of Public Health in New Haven, Conn., said he is "fairly certain" the subvariant will become dominant in the U.S., but is unclear on "what that would mean for the pandemic."

Dr. Grubaugh predicted that COVID-19 cases will continue to fall in the coming weeks, though it's not out of the realm of possibility for BA.2 to create a new surge or slow case declines. He said scientists are currently conducting more research that could help inform projections. 

Two more forecasts to know:

1. Daily COVID-19 hospital admissions will likely fall over the next four weeks, with 4,900 to 27,800 new admissions likely reported on Feb. 18, according to ensemble forecasts the CDC published Jan. 24. For context, the seven-day hospitalization average for Jan. 19-25 was 19,315, an 8.8 percent decrease from the previous week's average. 

2. CDC forecasting predicts U.S. COVID-19 deaths will remain stable or have an uncertain trend over the next month, with 4,900 to 25,600 deaths likely reported in the week ending Feb. 19. Current forecasts should be interpreted with caution, the CDC said, as they may not fully account for omicron's rapid spread.

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