Omicron continuing to evolve and mutate | News

It’s not the same old “COVID is fading, but …” story this week. COVID cases are slowly climbing in the U.S., North Carolina and Jackson County.

Following a low of 24,983 on April 4, the seven-day average for U.S. cases had risen to 57,020 as of Tuesday morning. Statewide, the seven-day average fell to 508 on April 5 and had risen to 1,657 on May 1.

In Jackson County, case reports fell to five for the week ending April 2. Since then, weekly cases have numbered 16, 11 and 19 for the week ending April 23.

“Cases in our area appear to be rising, but hospitalizations remain low,” Dr. Ben Guiney said. “We still don’t know what this all means, but it’s probably a good idea to take extra precautions, especially for the unvaccinated and those at higher risk. It’s a great time to get boosted if you are due. Two things I’ve learned are that COVID is unpredictable and everything is fine until it isn’t.”

Guiney, a local ER doctor, recommends KN-95 or N-95 masks in large crowds.

Jackson County Public Schools report four cases, all among students. Cullowhee Valley reports three (last week six) and Smokey Mountain Elementary one (last week two). There were three staff cases as of last Wednesday, none this week.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reports 9,545 cases in the county since March 2020.

“We did see yet another slight increase in our reported cases last week, but community transmission levels remain low,” said Anna Lippard of the Jackson County Department of Public Health. “Wastewater viral concentrations in Jackson County have risen dramatically recently (April 21 and 24 samples), with values more than 10 times higher than the prior week. Additionally, new daily case counts have risen substantially over the past week and are on par with August 2021 levels.”

New strains of COVID have been detected that are more transmissible than “stealth Omicron,” able to evade antibodies from vaccination and prior infection.

Subvariants B.4 and B.5 could lead to a new wave coming, experts say. The strains have made their way to the U.S.

First detected in South Africa, the subvariants are surging despite almost all South Africans having been vaccinated or having had COVID, Bloomberg reported last week. The country reported almost 4,000 new infections on Sunday.

As with other Omicron variants, those vaccinated against COVID who have been infected with Omicron may fall sick if they contract the subvariants, but probably won’t require hospitalization or die, researcher Alex Sigal, a professor at the Africa Health Research Institute in South Africa, told Fortune magazine last week.

“If you were vaccinated and had Omicron, your protection is decent against severe disease,” Sigal said.

Meanwhile, variant BA.2 has become the dominant strain of coronavirus in the U.S. It accounted for about 1 percent of cases for the week ending Feb. 5, and now accounts for about 62 percent.

More infections bring more opportunities for the virus to mutate, making planning difficult, said Maria Van Kerkhove of the World Health Organization.

“The uncertainty that we have about what the next variant will be remains a significant cause of concern for us because we need to plan for many different types of scenarios,” she said at a press conference last week.

The CDC says newcomer BA.2.12.1, another of the Omicron gang, is about 25 percent more transmissible than BA.2.

On March 12, BA.2.12.1 was responsible for about half a percentage point of infections. By the week ending April 30, that number was up to 36 percent.

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