A new sub-variant of Omicron detected in California a few weeks ago is now proliferating in Europe and Asia, and Los Angeles County health officials worry that the new strain could lead to a new COVID-19 surge in the county.
BA.2, known as the “Stealth Omicron,” is one of the four Omicron sub-variants. Recent transmission was primarily led by the Omicron BA.1 variant, but now BA.2 is rapidly spreading in many countries including the United Kingdom, Denmark, India, and Singapore, according to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
The BA.2 variant was first identified in Los Angeles County in late January and now accounts for 27.7 percent of overall COVID cases in California and about 23.1 percent in the nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“So, my assumption is: It’s here. It’s likely to increase. I see no reason why it won’t, in fact, become a more dominant strain,” Director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health Barbara Ferrer said at a media briefing on March 17.
While the new COVID-19 cases in Los Angeles County continue to drop, the BA.2 variant has health officials on high alert.
“We are closely tracking the information from Europe,” Ferrer said. “We do have an opportunity to proactively prepare by maintaining our response capacity and increasing vaccination and booster coverage, particularly among those who are most vulnerable.”
Since BA.2 is 30 percent more infectious than BA.1, Ferrer said, BA.2 might become the dominant variant soon. However, she added, it is still unknown whether BA.2 will increase disease severity and risk of hospitalization.
According to the CDC, more than 98 percent of the U.S. population are currently living in a community with low or medium COVID risk. As of March 18, all the Southern California counties are considered at low risk of COVID.
With the upcoming spring break, Ferrer urges travelers to take “sensible precautions” and get tested upon returning home.
After the indoor mask mandate was removed in California on March 1, the state is ready to loosen other precautionary measures.
Beginning April 1, proof of COVID-19 vaccination and negative test result are strongly recommended instead of required for attendees at indoor mega-events, the state Department of Public Health announced on March 17.
According to the latest statistics released by the department, the daily average number of cases reported in California is 2,785, and the daily average death is 95.
In February, the World Health Organization has been monitoring the genetic sequences of the new sub-variant and suggests that all countries continue to be vigilant about the COVID situation.