The BA.5 Variant Is Now Dominant: What News Outlets, Social Media Are Saying


White House COVID-19 coordinator Ashish Jha tweeted last week that “we know how to manage this moment.” News coverage and social media posting about the BA.5 variant crested as the variant became the dominant strain circulating in the U.S.

The CDC considers all the lineages of the omicron variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 to be “variants of concern,” meaning that is an increased risk of transmissibility, increased risk of severe disease, less protection from antibodies against other strains by virtue of vaccination or previous infection, reduced effectiveness of existing vaccines and treatment, or reduced detection from current set of diagnostic tests.

The CDC lists seven omicron variants on its website: B.1.1.529, BA.1, BA.1.1, BA.2, BA.3, BA.4 and BA.5 lineages.

Ashish Jha

Ashish Jha

If there are all variants of concern, the BA.5 variant is, by far, the variants that is most concerning. It has become the main strain circulating in the U.S. Ashish Jha, M.D., M.P.H., the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, has struck a sanguine pose in his tweets. “Do we know exactly how BA.5 will play out in the U.S. in the upcoming weeks to months,” he tweeted in a thread on July 9. “We don’t. No one does. But we are prepared. We know how to manage this moment.”

Eric Topol, M.D., of Scripps Research in La Jolla, California, who has emerged as leading voice on COVID-19 during the pandemic, predicted escalating number of cases and more hospitalizations, during an appearance on CNN last night. But Topol also noted that BA.5 variant may not be associated with disease that is as severe as other SARS-CoV-2 variants. “The one good thing is that it doesn’t seem to be accompanied by (as many) ICU admissions and deaths as previous variants,” Topol said.

Coverage and social media chatter about BA.5 may be climbing as fast the transmission of the variant itself. Here is a round-up of some of that coverage:

The Daily Beast story, today:

The latest subvariant of the novel coronavirus to become dominant in Europe, the United States, and other places is also, in many ways, the worst so far.

The BA.5 subvariant of the basic Omicron variant appears to be more contagious than any previous form of the virus. It’s apparently better at dodging our antibodies, too — meaning it might be more likely to cause breakthrough and repeat infections.

The Washington Post, July 10

America has decided the pandemic is over. The coronavirus has other ideas.

The latest omicron offshoot, BA.5, has quickly become dominant in the United States, and thanks to its elusiveness when encountering the human immune system, is driving a wave of cases across the country.

The size of that wave is unclear because most people are testing at home or not testing at all. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the past week has reported a little more than 100,000 new cases a day on average.

But infectious-disease experts know that wildly underestimates the true number, which may be as many as a million, said Eric Topol, a professor at Scripps Research who closely tracks pandemic trends.

Antibodies from vaccines and previous covid infections offer limited protection against BA.5, leading Topol to call it “the worst version of the virus that we’ve seen.”

Financial Times, July 10

Hospital admissions are rising across Europe and the US as highly transmissible Covid-19 variants drive infections, but the resulting illness is less likely to be severe or cause death than in previous waves, according to data analyzed by the Financial Times and health experts. The number of new Covid admissions has grown by 40 per cent in the last week in France, 34 per cent in England and more than 20 per cent in several other European countries. The wave has been fueled by the BA.5 Omicron sub-variant. Maurizio Cecconi, president of the European Society of Intensive Care Medicine, said cases were rising in France, Italy and Germany. However, he added that cases had fallen in Portugal, which was in the vanguard of a fifth Covid wave in Europe.

Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. former CDC director, July 8 tweet

Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5 are taking hold and may springboard us into a new infection surge. We can protect ourselves and others by staying up to date on vaccination, masking up when community transmission is high or if you’re at high risk, and staying home when sick.

Insider, July 8

Like the Delta variant did last year, the new coronavirus subvariant BA.5 is putting a dent on summer fun — and experts say it's only going to get harder to avoid it in the weeks and months ahead.

"Those of us who've escaped for 2.5 years? It's gonna be hard to escape this one," Dr. Preeti Malani, an infectious disease physician from the University of Michigan, told Insider.

Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said much the same.

"You cannot avoid a respiratory virus like this forever, unless you completely cease interaction with all other human beings," he said.

COVID-19 reinfections are spiking around the globe — in some cases, even people who were infected just weeks or months ago are getting hit with COVID again.

"If you were infected with the original Omicron, or even BA2.12.1, the immunity from those infections does not protect very well against BA.4 and BA.5," leading infectious disease expert Dr. Celine Gounder, editor at large for Public Health at Kaiser Health News, told Insider.

New York Times, July 7

The most transmissible variant yet of the coronavirus is threatening a fresh wave of infections in the United States, even among those who have recovered from the virus fairly recently.

The subvariant of Omicron known as BA.5 is now dominant, according to federal estimates released Tuesday, and together with BA.4, another subvariant, it is fueling an outbreak of cases and hospitalizations.

Though the popularity of home testing means reported cases are a significant undercount of the true infection rate, the share of tests that come back positive is shooting upward and is now higher than during most other waves of the pandemic. According to the C.D.C., the risk from Covid-19 is increasing in much of the country.

Yale Medicine, updated on July 6

In early July 2022, a strain called BA.5 — the most contagious one so far along with BA.4, another subvariant — is causing more than 50% of cases, making it the predominant strain in the United States. (BA.4 accounts for about 20% of all U.S. COVID cases.)

The original Omicron strain has a relatively mild version of the virus, causing less severe disease and death than Delta, which preceded it. While scientists are still learning about BA.5, data continues to show hospitalizations to be low compared to earlier in the pandemic. So far, the same can be said of infections, based on numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But that data does not include results from home tests.

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