Experts also keep an eye on a rare mutant called a delta-omicron hybrid, which they claim doesn't pose a significant threat but shows just how clever the coronavirus is.
According to Dr. Eric Topol of Scripps Research Translational Institute, the U.S. will see an increase in cases due to the omicron descendant BA.2 in the coming weeks.
He said, "It is inevitable that we will see a BA.2 Wave here."
One reason: Pandemic restrictions across the U.S. have been lifted after two months of declining COVID-19 numbers. Many are removing their masks and returning indoors to restaurants and theaters.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is responsible for 35% of all new infections in the United States last week. It was approximately half in the Northeast.
The top U.S. infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said that the U.S. would likely experience an "uptick", similar to the one in Europe. Particularly, in the United Kingdom where BA.2 is the predominant strain, he believes the U.S. will also be affected. He stated that he does not believe it will be a surge.
Fauci stated that the U.K. had "had the exact same situation as now." They have BA.2. There is a relaxation in some restrictions, such as indoor masking, and a "waning of immunity" to past and vaccine-related infections.
Keri Althoff, a researcher from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health cautioned that CDC cases underestimate the true number of people being tested. Some people are not getting tested anymore, while others are testing at home, and are not reporting their results. She also said that not all specimens are genetically sequenced in order to determine the variant.
She said that it was clear that "BA.2" is on the horizon.
Scientists say that is 30% more contagious to the variant than the original. Research has shown that it can cause severe illness in rare cases.
Although vaccines are effective against both types, breakthrough infections can be achieved. Experts point out that the U.S. vaccination rate is lower than in the U.K. 74% of people 12 years and older are fully vaccinated, compared to 86% in the U.K.
Topol stated, "We must emphasize that we are not protected in the country"
However, not all experts are concerned about an increase in U.S. BA.2-related cases. Houston Methodist's Dr. James Musser is the head of genomic medicine at Houston Methodist. He said that the variant has only affected 1% to 3.3% of his patients. The cases there are often closely related to what is happening in the U.K.
He called BA.2 "something that we're watching closely," but added, "I'm still not losing sleep over it."
Scientists see the other variant, which some call "deltacron", as a hybrid that contains genetic information from both omicron and delta.
Maria Van Kerkhove, a representative of the World Health Organization, stated earlier this month that the hybrid was detected at "very low" levels in France, Denmark, and the Netherlands. Two recent studies that have not been peer-reviewed point to very few cases in the U.S.
Many things remain unknown about this hybrid. It doesn't appear to infect many people and there is no evidence that it causes more severe diseases. Researchers from the CDC identified nine samples, seven of which were from the mid-Atlantic in a study that was released Monday but has not yet been peer-reviewed. Topol, who wasn't involved in the research, stated that there is no evidence it can spread.
According to Dr. Stuart Campbell Ray at Johns Hopkins University, it is common for coronaviruses shuffle gene segments. People could get two different variants at once, which can lead to double infection. A "progeny virus", however, may emerge.
Experts recommend that people get vaccinated, and keep their masks on due to the virus' potential to spawn new mutations.
Topol stated, "Keep your guard up." "This isn't over."