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New Version Of Omicron Is Spreading Quickly In LA

A closeup of an orange and white box that reads "iHealth Covid-19 Antigen Rapid Test. Self-Test At Home Results in 15 Mins. FDA, Emergency Use Authorization."
A COVID-19 self-test kit.
(Suzanne Levy
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Omicron’s more contagious cousin is on the rise in Los Angeles County, although so far it hasn't led to a spike in cases.

Infectious disease experts are closely watching the BA.2 subvariant of omicron, which appears more transmissible than the original omicron strain, though not more severe.

For the week ending March 5, BA.2 accounted for 14.7% of tests that have undergone genetic sequencing.That’s more than double the 6.4% from the week before.

The steady rise is expected. BA.2 began showing up in sequenced tests in January. Last week, L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said she expects BA.2 to become the dominant variant. She recommended that everyone who is eligible get vaccinated or boosted, if they haven’t already, and wear high grade masks, such as N-95s or KN95s, in large groups of people.

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Previously referred to as “stealth omicron,” because it evaded scientific detection last fall, early research suggests BA.2 spreads faster than the first omicron, which itself spread faster than the original virus and other variants. Surges in cases and hospitalizations in China and Western Europe are being fueled by the highly transmissible subvariant.

On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that BA.2 now makes up one-third of new COVID-19 infections nationwide, up from one in 10 just a week ago.

The Northeast part of the country accounts for the highest concentration of the subvariant, with half of all sequenced cases in the last week. It’s also on the rise in the Southwest. According to CDC data, which breaks up the country by region, the variant now makes up 41% of all sequenced tests in California, Arizona and Nevada.

Despite the rise in the extremely contagious BA.2 subvariant, new COVID-19 infections are still declining. As of March 25, L.A. County’s current Centers for Disease Control Community Level is low, with 117.8 new cases per 100,000 people in the past seven days, and hospitalizations continuing to trend down. In total, 735 new cases were reported Thursday, and 27 deaths.

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