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Mayo Clinic: Latest on COVID-19 omicron subvariant BA.2

"As we enter into an endemic faze of COVID-19, that's not a one way door," said Dr. John O'Horo, a Mayo Clinic infectious disease specialist.

MINNEAPOLIS — Omicron was first named a variant of concern last November and since then, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has classified two subvariants. The latest, BA.2, is now rapidly spreading – accounting for 55% of all U.S. cases as of Thursday – up from 7.4% of cases at the end of February.

"The studies that have been done on this particular variant is that it has what we call a growth advantage, it has a higher transmission rate," said Dr. Matthew Binnicker, Director of Mayo Clinic's Clinical Virology Laboratory in Rochester.

Dr. Binnicker says all omicron subvariants are more transmissible compared to previous strains such as delta, but cause less severe disease and fewer hospitalizations. But people who have not been vaccinated or boosted still face greater risks. 

"We have seen increasing cases in parts of the world, some regions of the U.S., but the UK, Denmark, Germany have all seen recent surges due to BA.2 variant," said Dr. Binnicker.

"As we enter into an endemic faze of COVID that's not a one way door," said Dr. John O'Horo, a Mayo Clinic infectious disease specialist.

COVID-19 cases peaked in January 2022 and have dropped significantly, with daily cases and deaths decreasing by more than 50% in the last 30 days, according to the CDC. Health officials say although another surge – is not expected, cases could rise in the coming weeks.

"If we follow some of the same patterns we've seen in Europe, the next couple of weeks can see an increase, but how much of an increase can remain to be seen for any number of reasons," said Dr. Ohoro. "One of which the omicron wave hit us harder than it did in Europe, and we may have some more immunity to slow that peak."

Health officials say the best way to stay safe against any new variant is still masking, testing and vaccinations.

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