As new omicron strains overtake BA.5 in US, Biden administration’s public health emergency may extend into spring

The BQ.1 and BQ.1.1-omicron sublines collectively accounted for more coronavirus cases than the BA.5-omicron variant in the U.S. in weeks through 12, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention November.

The two variants, which are offshoots of BA.5, accounted for 44.1% of all cases recorded that week, while BA.5 accounted for 29.7%, the data shows. In the New York region, which includes New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 accounted for 59.9% of new cases, well ahead of BA.5, which accounted for 19.5 % of new cases.

The World Health Organization has said that based on current data, BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 appear to be more infectious than previous variants, but are not more likely to cause serious illness or death. That’s consistent with how all the new variants have behaved, as they replaced previous strains. Experts continue to recommend staying up to date on vaccines and boosters to avoid COVID complications.

On Monday there was good news from Moderna MRNA,
who said both new COVID boosters produced a better antibody response against the BA.4 and BA.5 variants in a phase 2/3 clinical trial than the company’s original booster.

Moderna has two bivalent boosters, one of which is approved for use in the US. That injection, mRNA-1273,222, elicited a “superior neutralizing antibody response” against BA.4 and BA.5 in about 500 clinical trial participants who had already been treated. vaccinated and boosted.

Moderna also said its boosters have shown neutralizing activity against BQ.1.1 in research assays of 40 participants “despite an approximately 5-fold drop in titers compared to BA.4/BA.5.”

The Biden administration gave no sign to state officials on Friday that it plans to end the COVID public health emergency, meaning the designation will remain in effect at least through January, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The Department of Health and Human Services has told states they will be notified 60 days before the public health emergency is lifted. The designation was extended in October through January 11, meaning the public health emergency could last until spring.

The news comes as known US cases of COVID are on the rise again for the first time in a few months. The daily average for new cases stood at 39,489 on Sunday, according to a New York Times tracker, up 7% from two weeks ago.

Cases are rising in 33 states, led by Missouri where they are up 200% from two weeks ago, followed by Utah where they are up 77%.

The daily average for hospitalizations in the US was up 2% to 27,943, but certain states are seeing higher increases. In Colorado, hospitalizations are up 69% from two weeks ago, followed by Nevada where they are up 55%; Arizona, where they are up 49%; and Hawaii, where they are up 42%.

On a better note, the daily average for deaths in the US is down 10% to 317.

Coronavirus update: MarketWatch’s daily roundup collects and reports the latest developments since the start of the coronavirus pandemic each weekday

Other COVID-19 news you should know:

• In a district of Guangzhou, China’s southern metropolis, 1.8 million people were ordered to stay home on Saturday for virus testing, and a major city in the country’s southwest closed schools as infections rose again was reported, the Associated Press reported. A total of 11,773 infections were reported nationwide in the past 24 hours, including 10,351 people without symptoms. China’s numbers are low, but the rise over the past week challenges the government’s “zero-COVID” strategy, which aims to isolate every infected person.

• Several hospitals in Southern California have begun using overflow tents outside of emergency rooms to accommodate rising numbers of patients with flu and other respiratory illnesses, the AP reported separately. The San Diego-Union Tribune reported Friday that tents had been set up at Scripps Memorial Hospital in Encinitas, the Jacobs Medical Center at UC San Diego Health in La Jolla and Sharp Grossmont Hospital in La Mesa. This comes amid an increase in flu symptoms among emergency room patients in San Diego County. About 9% of those patients had flu symptoms last week, up from 7% two weeks ago, according to a provincial report that also noted an increase, albeit a smaller one, in patients with COVID-19 symptoms.

Germany is heading for a surge in COVID-19 cases this winter, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said Friday as he criticized four German states’ plans to relax isolation rules for infected people, Reuters reported. “Then we would have an even stronger wave than we already fear, and we are on the verge of an even more contagious variant,” he said. The regional administrations of Bavaria, Baden-Wuerttemberg, Hesse and Schleswig-Holstein had no federal government approval to relax those rules, Lauterbach added on the sidelines of a parliamentary assembly.

This is what the numbers say:

The global number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 exceeded 635.3 million on Monday, while the death toll rose above 6.61 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

The US leads the world with 97.9 million cases and 1,074,485 fatalities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracker shows that 227.8 million people in the US, equivalent to 68.6% of the total population, are fully vaccinated, meaning they have had their primary vaccinations.

To date, only 31.4 million Americans have had the updated COVID booster targeting the original virus and its omicron variants, equivalent to 10.1% of the total population.

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