[5 minute read]
In this article:
A Swedish infection prevention expert answers basic questions about the BA.2 subvariant of omicron.
BA.2 is now the dominant strain of the virus that causes COVID-19.
Vaccination remains the best protection we have against COVID-19 and the BA.2 variant.
Swedish is continuing to watch COVID-19 trends in the community, specifically community transmission levels.
According to experts, the next wave of COVID-19 is coming; in fact, many of them say it’s already here. Driving this next wave is BA.2, a subvariant of the highly infectious omicron variant. While we don’t know yet what the effect of this latest subvariant will be, we do know that BA.2 is driving a surge of cases across Europe and is now the dominant strain of the coronavirus in the United States and around the world.
To help us understand what BA.2 means and how it might affect us, we spoke with Evan Sylvester, regional director of infection prevention at Swedish, about the subvariant, how we’re preparing and what we can do to keep ourselves and our families safe.
Why is it called BA.2?
As viruses mutate into new variants, they sometimes form sublineages. The delta variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 has over 200 sublineages and the same happened with the omicron variant, which was known as BA.1. BA.2 is a sublineage of the highly transmissible omicron variant. BA.2 is estimated to be 30 to 50 percent more contagious than the previous version of omicron, BA.1.
How is the variant affecting Washington state?
Although BA.2 has become the dominant variant nationally and in Washington state, accounting for 58.9% of cases in this region, right now we are not seeing signs of a wave of hospitalizations.
Dr. Umair Shah, Washington State’s Secretary of Health noted that this was very positive news. "In Washington, the trajectory of cases continues to be on the decline, and that is fantastic news and welcome news," said Dr. Shah. "It's not just cases in the community, but we're continuing to see hospitalizations also decrease as well. That said, we're also watching BA.2 across the county and across the globe. BA.2 has now become the dominant strain for COVID-19 positive cases in the state of Washington."
However, with likely increased transmission of the new variant in our area, relaxation of public COVID restrictions and increasing travel, there is a significant chance that we may see another wave, but much smaller than the one we saw with Omicron in the winter. This may mean we need to revert back to some COVID safety measures that have gone away, such as masking in public.
Do I need to be more concerned about BA.2 than previous strains?
As we understand it, BA.2 does not look like it causes much more serious disease than BA.1 or previous variants. Data indicates that BA.2 is more transmissible than BA.1, but still causes less severe illness and fewer deaths than delta. Studies are still evaluating the risk of reinfection with BA.2 compared to BA.1. Initial data from population-level reinfection studies suggest that infection with BA.1 provides strong protection against reinfection with BA.2, at least for the limited period based on early data.
The best thing you can do is get vaccinated. Protection through vaccination still remains the best option to protect against COVID-19 and the BA.1 and BA.2 variant. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration just authorized second booster doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines for those 50 years of age and older and for certain immunocompromised individuals. Additionally, vaccine manufactures are currently working on and testing new vaccines that are targeted at the new variants.
What is Swedish doing to prepare for a surge of the variant?
Swedish is continuing to watch COVID-19 trends in the community, specifically community transmission levels based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 Data Tracker. As we monitor trends we will continue to adjust as necessary, including revising our visitor policy. As always, safety and high-quality care are our highest priorities. We require universal masking, hand hygiene, physical distancing and screening protocols for all persons entering our facilities. We strongly recommend that you get vaccinated as your best defense against getting sick and significantly reducing your risk of infection.
Find a doctor
Whether you require an in-person visit or want a virtual consultation, you have options. Swedish Express Care Virtual connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow-up as needed. If you need to find a physician, caregiver or advanced care practitioner, you can use our provider directory.
Find out the latest updates on how we’re handling COVID-19.