The New Omicron Variant BA.2 (what you need to know as NYC Plans to Drop Mask and Vaccine Mandates)

The New Omicron Variant BA.2-what you need to know
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The New Omicron Variant BA.2

New York City Mayor Eric Adams plans to roll back COVID-19 mandates as cases continue to decline, but infectious disease experts are watching another highly contagious variant emerge: BA.2.

The BA.2 virus is a strain of the highly contagious Omicron variant. It appears to spread easily and has been found across the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s data tracker

What the Experts Say about the BA.2 Variant

The highly transmissible Omicron variant now accounts for almost all COVID-19 cases around the world, but BA.2 appears to be even more contagious.

“In the U.S., we have identified cases in about half of the states,” said Gregory Poland, M.D., director of the Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group.

“The best estimates are that it’s about 1.5 times more infectious or transmissible than Omicron was. And, remember, Omicron was quite a bit more transmissible than Delta, which was more transmissible than Alpha,” said Dr. Poland.

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution is keeping a close eye on the variant.

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“Based on available data of transmission, severity, reinfection, diagnostics, therapeutics and impacts of vaccines, the group reinforced that the BA.2 sublineage should continue to be considered a variant of concern and that it should remain classified as Omicron,” the WHO said in a statement. “The group emphasized that BA.2 should continue to be monitored as a distinct sublineage of Omicron by public health authorities.”

Will the BA.2 Variant Trigger Another Massive Surge of the Virus? 

The good news is that BA.2 does not seem to cause more severe illness than the original variant, according to experts. Immunity from prior infections and vaccinations will help prevent another massive surge of Omicron. 

“The most likely thing that’s going to happen is that it might extend our tail, meaning it might slow down the decrease in cases. But it’s probably not going to lead to a new wave of cases,” Nathan Grubaugh, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health, told NPR

What This Means for Kids and Families in NYC

News of the BA.2 variant comes as New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced plans on Wednesday to roll back vaccine and mask requirements in near future. 

“I look forward to the next few weeks of going through a real transformation,” the mayor said. “We are moving in the right direction, we’re going to do it in a safe way.”

Adams also stressed the importance of the economy when the mandates are lifted.  

“We can’t close down again. I’m not going to do something out of my anticipation to get back that is going to jeopardize closing down the city again. Our economy can’t handle it,” he said. 

As for staying healthy and safe, the CDC continues to recommend COVID-19 vaccination for everyone ages 5 years and older in the United States. 

A three-dose primary mRNA COVID-19 vaccine series is recommended for ages 5 years and older who are moderately or severely immunocompromised, followed by a booster dose in those ages 12 and older. The CDC also recommends a booster for everyone ages 12 and older. 

More information about the BA.2 variant can be found on the CDC’s website at cdc.gov.

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