Scientists watching new COVID-19 sub-strains causing spikes abroad

The CDC estimates about 23% of COVID cases in the US last week were due to BA.2, a sub-variant also known as "stealth omicron."

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Wednesday, March 16, 2022
Scientists watching new COVID-19 sub-strains causing spikes abroad
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The CDC estimates about 23% of COVID cases in the US last week were due to BA.2.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- So many people are ready to put the pandemic behind them and have a normal spring and summer.

But as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations spike in other parts of the world, it begs the question: is another spike in store here at home?

"How am I feeling about COVID? Comfortable. Obviously, we're all standing out here without masks on at the moment. So just kind of following whatever the protocol is," said Jerry Schenk of Mount Laurel.

As the weather warms and many pandemic-related restrictions lift across the Delaware Valley, many are ready to move on.

But not everyone feels that way.

"I just feel like it's not over yet," said Laura Huggins of Pennsauken, who has a 2-year-old son who cannot be vaccinated yet against COVID-19.

And while public health officials in Philadelphia say things are "all clear," meaning no restrictions, other parts of the world are grappling with COVID spikes.

In Hong Kong, hospitals are struggling to keep up with a surge in patients.

In Germany, infections are up 45% since the beginning of March.

"It's surprisingly variable in Europe I think. There are places where it's going down sharply, others where it seems to be going up and I honestly don't know what the explanation is," said Dr. Frederic Bushman, the co-director of the Penn Center for Research on Coronavirus and Other Emerging Pathogens, who's been studying the variants of COVID-19.

Right now, researchers are focusing on BA.2, a sub-variant also known as "stealth omicron."

The CDC estimates about 23% of COVID cases in the U.S. last week were due to BA.2.

In region 3, which includes Pennsylvania and Delaware, 20% of new cases were BA.2. And in Region 2, including New Jersey, 39% of COVID cases were from the new omicron variant.

SEE ALSO: Rise in COVID cases abroad, presence of omicron subvariant may foreshadow increase in US: Experts

There's also deltacron, which is a combination of delta and omicron.

Researchers say it's not nearly as prevalent as BA.2, as there are only a handful of cases of deltacron out there.

So far, scientists don't think it's any more dangerous than the original viruses, but it's something they're watching.

Across the US, 65% of test sites detected COVID in all wastewater samples in the last 15 days, and 38% of them reported an increase in COVID detected.

This includes two water sites in Montgomery County.

Researchers' advice, amid all of this information, is to be flexible.

"Things seem to be going down now and that's great," explained Bushman. "So it's appropriate that we should be thinking about loosening up. But if they suddenly turn the other way, then we'll have to go back to more precautions and that will be disappointing, but it wouldn't be shocking."

He also says the best way to prevent more variants is to get vaccinated and take the proper precautions.

Currently, hospitalizations in Philadelphia have decreased 37% from two weeks ago, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.