Pa. COVID update: BA.5, now dominant variant in U.S., could mean another surge for state – lehighvalleylive.com

While the United States celebrated its independence from Great Britain over the weekend, the country was being dominated by two new foes: the BA.4 and BA.5 variants of COVID-19.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the two variants make up about 70% of cases in the U.S. as of July 2. Most of that 70% was BA.5, 53.6% specifically. It’s now the dominant strain in the country.
Bob Wachter, the chair of the University of California San Francisco Department of Medicine, wrote in a Twitter thread over the weekend that BA.5 is likely not going to be slowed by biological protections in most people.
… that BA.5 is just another one. But, as Topol describes, BA.5 is a different beast, with a new superpower: enough alteration in the spike protein that immunity from either prior vax or prior Omicron infection (incl. recent infection) doesn’t offer much protection. Drat. (3/25)
Pennsylvania, which two weeks ago was seeing its COVID-19 case and death numbers in a downtrend, hasn’t had its situation change much from where it was at the tail end of June. Case figures are up slightly, its death rate has stayed put and hospitalization levels have essentially not moved. But that could all change as BA.5 continues to spread.
Currently, Pennsylvania has a case count of 3,018,129 total cases of COVID-19 since March of 2020, passing the 3 million-case mark late in June. Over the last two weeks, the state has had an increase of 30,772 cases, breaking down to a 14-day average of 2,198 new cases per day. On June 22, the average was 1,761. The jump of roughly 400 cases per day is likely because of BA.5, and as the variant continues to cause most of the cases across the country, another case spike in Pennsylvania wouldn’t surprise.
Given that the state has only experienced a slight increase in its case rate over the last two weeks, it’s still too early to tell if the rise of BA.5 is going to have a significant effect on deaths in Pennsylvania and around the country. With 164 deaths reported in the last two weeks, Pennsylvania’s death toll is up to 45,821, but its daily average is currently sitting at about 12 deaths per day, one higher than it was averaging two weeks ago and on par with the state’s death rate over the last couple of months.
Because Pennsylvania’s case increase due to BA.5 isn’t yet very significant, it could be a number of weeks until any evidence of a sharp rise in deaths.
Hospitalization levels across the state have largely stayed put, too. On June 22, there were 1,025 patients hospitalized, 109 in the ICU and 54 on a ventilator. On Wednesday, there were 1,054 hospitalized, 99 in the ICU and 45 on a ventilator.
Hospital data figures fluctuate day-to-day much more so than case and death figures, so while there’s been some movement between June 22 and Wednesday — as many as 1,076 hospitalized and as low as 980 — there’s generally been very little change in the overall hospitalization levels. However, a slight spike might be on the horizon.
The best way to avoid both contracting and spreading the BA.5 COVID-19 variant is wearing a mask indoors and receiving both booster shots of the COVID-19 vaccine. Currently, everyone fully vaccinated over the age of 5 is eligible for their first booster dose, and those 50 years old and older as well as those 12 years old and older that are immunocompromised can get their second booster dose.
According to Reuters, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommended last week to COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers to alter vaccine design this fall to include components tailored to combat BA.4 and BA.5.
Currently, according to data from the CDC, 69.6% of all Pennsylvanians are fully vaccinated. Of that population, only 43.8% have received their first booster dose, and only 25% of those 50 years old and older that are fully vaccinated have received their second booster.
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Connor Lagore may be reached at [email protected].
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