Omicron Subvariants Dominating New U.S. COVID-19 Cases

June 22, 2022

If there is one thing the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us, it’s that pivoting is the new norm and there’s always something different on the horizon. Three recent Omicron subvariants of COVID-19 have confirmed that by being more contagious and less likely to be protected against by vaccination or prior infection. This blog goes into information on each of the subvariants, why they’re so contagious, and potential subvariant severity.

A Bit About the Recent Omicron Subvariants

The most recent Omicron subvariants, BA.4 and BA.5, now account for 34.9% of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S., according to the estimates of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as of June 11. First detected in South Africa in January 2022 (BA.4) and February 2022 (BA.5), These two variants have derived from the Omicron strain of COVID-19 to be even more contagious than previous subvariants — BA.1, for example — and more likely to spread from person to person.

Another Omicron variant, BA.2.12.1, currently accounts for 56% of U.S COVID-19 cases, according to CDC estimates, making it the dominant variant in the U.S. as of June 18, 2022.

Together, these three variants account for 90.9% of new U.S. COVID-19 cases, by CDC estimates as of June 18, 2022. COVID-19 is constantly mutating, so keeping an eye on current and emerging variants allows us to more confidently predict future outbreaks and complications. 

Why They’re so Contagious

These new variants can bypass antibodies created by past vaccination or prior infection, says viral evolution professor at Rockefeller University, Paul Bieniasz. Future variants will “acquire more and more mutations that enable them to invade the antibodies we’re generating in response to vaccination and infection,” said Bieniasz.

“These two new subvariants evolved from the Omicron lineage to become even more contagious and can bypass immunity from a past infection or vaccination, experts say. This means people can be reinfected even if they had Omicron earlier this year.” – TIME

These newer subvariants can also bypass monoclonal antibody treatments, which use lab-made immune system proteins developed from earlier strains of the virus.

Subvariant Severity

Though most studies hold Omicron with milder cases of COVID-19, limited data is available so far on the severity of the newer subvariants.

“Omicron infection generally causes less severe disease than infection with prior variants. Preliminary data suggest that Omicron may cause more mild disease, although some people may still have severe disease, need hospitalization, and could die from the infection with this variant.” – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Scientists are optimistic based on reports from South Africa, where BA.4 and BA.5 were first detected, which had fewer hospitalizations and deaths during its BA.4 and BA.5 waves compared to BA.1, according to TIME.

How to Protect Yourself and Others

Some easy ways to have confidence while interacting with family, friends, and strangers is to get vaccinated (and boosted!), wear a mask, keep your distance, and test for COVID-19 regularly. Our On/Go at-home rapid antigen tests help you stay in the know of your COVID-19 status to track your health and protect those around you. On/Go tests have been rated #1 by the ECRI.

If you have health insurance, you may be eligible for up to eight free at-home COVID-19 tests a month. Check for your insurance provider on our website and fill out the form to submit for reimbursement.

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