'This is a stay-tuned moment': Dr. Michael Osterholm on omicron uptick

The dominance of the COVID-19 omicron variant continues to persist throughout the U.S., with subvariant BA.5 now accounting for 53.6 percent of the nation's cases, but one expert says it could be hard to predict what will happen next.

Michael Osterholm, PhD, director of the Center for Infectious Disease, Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, told Becker's the prolonged influence of omicron on cases is part of "viral evolution." 

"This by the nature of its infectiousness and ability to evade immune protection has just remained the dominant variant," Dr. Osterholm said. "But, you can surely expect that pi or sigma will show up somewhere."

A daily average of 38,517 people have been hospitalized from COVID-19 as of July 12, an 18 percent increase over the past two weeks, according to HHS data tracked by The New York Times. Cases have also increased by 19 percent, with 129,858 new cases as of July 12, Times data shows. Experts predict, however, a BA.5 wave will likely be smaller than past surges.

"Right now, it's all about which virus can outcompete the next one in terms of transmission. And in some cases, [the] ability to cause disease transmission is really a prime driver," Dr. Osterholm said. "And that can be tied to its ability to evade immune protection to the host." 

Dr. Osterholm said there have been cases of reinfection between different omicron subvariants — adding that he thinks the current situation is a "stay-tuned moment."

"I think the challenge we have and continue to have are these viruses keep throwing 210-mile-an-hour curveballs," he said. "We just don't know what the next situation is going to be."

 

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