New omicron subvariants have become dominant in some Midwestern states, according to CDC
Two new COVID-19 subvariants that have been evading immune system responses and fueling reinfections across the country have become the dominant strains in parts of the Midwest, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates released last week.
Between June 26 and July 2, the two omicron subvariants known as BA.4 and BA.5 accounted for 17.3% and 54.5% respectively of COVID-19 infections in the CDC's region five, the data show. The region includes Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin.
Since the end of May, these new subvariants have also been on the ascent in the Buckeye State, Ohio Department of Health figures show. In the two weeks ending June 18, nearly 20% of coronavirus infections in Ohio were caused by BA.5, according to ODH data updated Thursday. That represents an increase from less than 1% during the two weeks ending May 21. By mid-June, the BA.4 subvariant caused nearly 6% of COVID-19 cases in the state.
Between June 17 and July 7, the number of cases reported each week in Ohio has grown. The subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 are more easily passed from person to person and may elude antibody treatments and the immune system even in those who have been vaccinated and boosted, according to a study published in the journal Cell.
That tracks with what doctors are experiencing on the ground in Northeast Ohio.
“What we're seeing is that even folks who've had previous infection or vaccinations, they still can get new symptoms and new infection with this variant," said Dr. David Margolius, the division director of general internal medicine at MetroHealth and the incoming director of public health for the City of Cleveland.
There’s some indication that these variants are fueling reinfections and possibly hospitalizations across the country. Some 31,000 people across the U.S. are currently hospitalized with the virus, with admissions up 4.5% compared to a week ago, according to NPR.
In Ohio, the number of new infections have ticked up slightly in the last three weeks, and 858 people were hospitalized with the virus as of Thursday — up from 652 a week before.
Overtime the virus that causes COVID-19 has changed and is less easily recognizable to our immune systems, explained Daniel Rhodes, a doctor of laboratory medicine with the Cleveland Clinic.
“Our immune system can still see it, but it's a little blurry, right? It doesn't look quite as clear as the original variant that the immune system saw the first time. And so that means that we can get infected with it.”
But Dr. Margolius said that vaccines seem to preventing serious disease even as more people have become infected.
"The vaccines are holding up so even with the number of cases rising, even with the cases that we don't know about from folks doing home tests, the number of hospitalizations have not increased in a dramatic way," he said.
As of July 7, COVID-19 community levels remained low across much of the state, according to the CDC. Among Northeast Ohio counties, only Mahoning and Trumbull had medium community levels.
At the medium level, the CDC recommends wearing a mask if you have symptoms or are exposed to or test positive for the virus or if you take public transportation. Those at high risk of serious disease should also consider wearing a mask indoors in public and taking additional precautions.