More-transmissible omicron variant has seeped into FL; what will it mean for the pandemic?

By: - March 17, 2022 3:55 pm

Image shows SARS-CoV-2 (in yellow), also known as 2019-nCoV, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. But since the pandemic, more mutations have occurred in the form of variants. Credit: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Rocky Mountain Laboratories, an agency of the National Institutes of Health

A newer more-catchable COVID variant, identified as BA.2, has already been detected in Florida, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And nationally, the variant has become more common among COVID-19 cases over the past couple weeks.

There are hints globally that could spell a new wave of COVID-19 heading to the United States, due in part to the more-transmissible subvariant of omicron, according to national news outlets.

But how the trajectory of the variant will impact the pandemic in Florida and across the nation is unclear, as COVID safety measures loosen.

In fact, at a news conference Thursday, Gov. Ron DeSantis didn’t say a word about BA.2, though he did discuss some COVID issues.

Over the course of the pandemic, cases in Europe tend to be a vision of what’s to come for the United States. And certain European countries are seeing increased COVID cases.

Bloomberg reported Tuesday: “Accelerated by the emergence of BA.2 — a more-transmissible strain of the omicron variant — the virus has spread rapidly. Germany on Tuesday set a fresh record for infection rates for the four straight day. Austria has also reached new highs, while cases in the Netherlands have doubled since lifting curbs on Feb. 25.”

Likewise, The Washington Post reported Wednesday: “A surge in coronavirus infections in Western Europe has experts and health authorities on alert for another wave of the pandemic in the United States, even as most of the country has done away with restrictions after a sharp decline in cases.

The CDC is tracking samples of variants — for the most part, omicron. As of of mid-March, BA.1.1. currently makes up 66.1 percent of COVID cases reported in the variant sampling. B.1.1.529 represents 10.8 percent. The new BA.2 is now at 23.1 percent — up from 13.7 percent from the week before.

As recently as January, COVID-19 cases were surging as a result of omicron. Now, BA.2 appears to be more transmissible, or easier to spread.

But it’s not clear if the newer variant will cause a surge at this point, according to the New York Times .

The Times reported Thursday: “COVID cases are still falling drastically in the United States — even as BA.2 is accounting for a greater fraction of those dwindling cases.”

The Times also reports that the variant does not appear to be more severe than the initial omicron variant and that vaccines are still effective against hospitalizations, particularly for those who are boosted with a third shot.

As for Florida, only about 1 percent of the COVID samplings are related to BA.2. In other words, the previous omicron strains are still the main contributor to COVID cases, for now.

As of March 15, there’s been only 1,250 new COVID cases in Florida. And the most recent state report shows that from March 4 through March 10, there were 87 deaths from COVID cases.

The Florida Department of Health announced last week on Twitter that it will no longer release weekly COVID reports, moving to a bi-weekly reporting schedule.

This means that the state Department of Health won’t be reporting on the state’s COVID cases, deaths attributed to COVID, COVID vaccination rate, and other information for two weeks at a time, even if the BA.2 actually impacts the state worse than omicron.

DeSantis Thursday railed against federal decisions to extend mask requirements for airlines while at a press conference at an Okaloosa County elementary school in the Panhandle.

Before he announced anything education-focused, DeSantis referred to certain COVID policies as “all for show.”

“We have no tolerance for COVID theater in Florida. We are not going to be doing these destructive policies,” he said Thursday.

DeSantis continued: “And if you look now what they just did – they extended the forced masking on airplanes and on transportations. Now think about this. You go on an airplane and you just want to sit there and read a magazine without a mask they say that’s the worst thing in the world. But if the person right next to you pulls the mask down and fake sip on water for two hours then they don’t have to wear the mask. I mean give me a break.

“This is theater. This should not be extended. It should have never been done in the first place but clearly now this is a farce. And so they need to repeal the transportation mandate. Let people fly and let them breathe normally. We have got to stop with the theater.”

He added: “You have families where the airlines are going to hassle families about masking a two-year-old or a three-year-old and that’s not an easy thing to do,” he said.  “Trust me – I mean, we would never do that to my kids – but I, it’s hard enough keeping them in order then you put that on there? I mean, give me a break.”

That said,  17 Republican members of Congress this week have sued the CD and CD officials, seeking an end to the federal rule requiring passengers on commercial flights and in airports to wear masks.

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Danielle J. Brown
Danielle J. Brown

Danielle J. Brown is a 2018 graduate of Florida State University. She has served as an editorial intern for International Program’s annual magazine and Rowland Publishing. She was born and raised in Tallahassee and reviews community theater productions for the Tallahassee Democrat.