When everything seemed that the pandemic was behind, another variant arrives

The recommendation is to get vaccinated against Covid-19 – Photo: Manuel Ocaño / Impremedia

All of the Los Angeles County Department of Health indexes on Covid look like good news, even graphically, with plummeting daily trends in infections, deaths, positive tests, and hospitalizations, but now, when the pandemic appears to be subsiding, they warn of a new strain called Stealth Omicron that could sprout at any moment.

Dr. Bárbara Ferrer, director of the County Public Health Department, mentioned in a press conference the chances that “Omicron BA.2 will easily become the dominant strain.”

Now that this variant is increasing in other regions of the country, “we have an opportunity to proactively prepare ourselves, maintaining our response capacity and increasing vaccination and booster coverage, particularly among the most vulnerable,” said Dr. Ferrer.

The scientific community refers to the new strain as “Stealth Omicron”, or the stealth variant of Omicron.

The name stealth label was attached because that variant was able to start spreading without the systems of the scientific community initially perceiving it. However, in the last two and a half weeks it has been understood with some speed, but without detecting the Los Angeles area yet.

According to data from Dr. Ferrer, this new strain is approximately 30 percent more contagious than the original Omicron, which was already four times more contagious than Delta.

The Department of Health reported that it is currently monitoring the development of the Stealth variant in Europe, particularly in Great Britain.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) does not have specific data on the number of infections of the new variant in the state of California, however it unites this state with others as a region.

In the region that includes California, Arizona and Nevada, the current Omicron Stealth infection rate is 27.7 percent according to the CDC, and this is at least 10 percent higher than last week.

Since the coronavirus emerged, infections in the United States, including California, appear to follow a rough pattern of the first positive cases of each variant, a few weeks after emerging in England.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, medical adviser to President Joe Biden, said in a television appearance this weekend that the BA.2 variant has a “degree of transmission advantage over the original Omicron, but not a multiple advantage.”

Fauci explained that the Stealth version could become dominant because it is “50 to 60 percent more contagious” than the initial Omicron strain, or BA.1.

But he initially ruled out that in addition to being more contagious, it is also more dangerous.

“When you look at the cases, they don’t seem to be more severe and they don’t seem to evade immune responses, either from previous vaccinations or infections,” Dr. Fauci said.

Right now, the prevalence of the Stealth Omicron is the most dominant in the northeast of the country.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that in the New York and New Jersey region, the new Omicron Stealth variant accounts for 39 percent of new positive cases.

Two weeks ago, Stealth Omicron was already responsible for 23 percent of new infections across the country, according to the CDC.

The original Omicron variant now remains the dominant variant in Los Angeles, California, and the rest of the country.

For now, the Stealth variant also seems to spread more easily among young people and according to the CDC it can also re-infect people who had contracted Covid with initial Omicron or BA.1.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said “the tools we have, including vaccines, therapeutics and tests are all effective tools against the stealth virus”.

Although it is difficult to pinpoint when the Stealth strain began to advance locally in California, it is known that it has been present in the country since last January, and that only recently has the number of infections of this new variant begun to increase.

Dr. Deborah Dowell, CDC medical director for the response to Covid, explains that although the Stealth strain spreads more quickly, the fact that there are so many people vaccinated limits its field of action.

“Although the proportion of BA.2 infections is increasing in the country, Covid cases are now declining, so it is likely that the absolute numbers of BA.2 infections will not increase as rapidly,” Dowell said.