With California suffering through another intense coronaviruses wave, the proliferation of the BA.5 sub variant is becoming a growing focus of scientific scrutiny, with experts saying it may replicate itself far more effectively than earlier versions of Omicron.
This summer's Omicron wave has been problematic because it may have an enhanced ability to create a large number of copies of the coronaviruses once it gets into human cells.
According to Dr. Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, the current version of the coronaviruses is probably combining aspects of last summer's Delta variant with older versions.
Many months ago, the term "Deltacron" was used in the Pandemic. Delta is more similar to the previous Omicron family of variant, according to Topol.
The Omicron waves earlier this year felt different than this one. The need for precautions is shown by the behavior of the strain.
According to a preprint report out of Australia, a lab study showed that BA.5 produced far more copies of the coronaviruses than BA.2 did.
The BA.5 version of the virus has caused a lot of trouble because it has a better ability to get into cells.
Dr. Peter Chin-Hong is an infectious-diseases expert at UC San Francisco.
The emergence of another Omicron subvariant, BA.25, has raised concerns in India.
Chin- Hong said it was discouraging. He said there are ways to live while reducing risk.
Staying up to date on vaccinations and boosters is one of the steps public health officials recommend.
The ability of the virus to escape the human body's immune response is known as "immune escape".
California reported about 2,300 weekly re infections. Around the time BA.5 began to circulate widely, the state reported about 10,400 weekly re infections.
The first Omicron subvariant, BA.1, which spread quickly in the U.S. after Thanksgiving, had dozens of changes that made it hard for our immune systems to recognize it.
"So what's now happened is that, with BA.5, it has superimposed mutations on top of BA.1 that make it even more difficult for our immune system to recognize."
Initial data from the Australian study suggested a reduction in effectiveness of Evusheld.
"That's another feature of immune escape, is that our antibodies don't work as well."
There is still a question of whether BA.5 leads to more severe illness.
Chin-Hong said that data from South Africa suggests that the risk of hospitalization hasn't changed despite the new version of Omicron.
For the last few months, coronaviruses case rates have remained persistently high, infecting a lot of people and disrupting business operations. The hospital is seeing more coronaviruses-positive patients.
California reported an average of more than 15,500 new coronaviruses per day during the week. On a per capita basis, that's about one case a week for every 100,000 people. Officials and experts say the apparent dip could be the result of data disruptions over the Fourth of July holiday.
Los Angeles County's coronaviruses case rate has been relatively stable for the last week but is still high. Every 100,000 residents there are 373 coronaviruses cases a week.
Due to the use of at- home tests, the official tally is almost certainly a major undercount.
The number of coronaviruses-positive patients who were hospitalized on a single day was the highest in a month. The latest patient census in Los Angeles County increased by 34% from two weeks before.
Though a significant share of those patients are not hospitalized because of COVID-19, and may have incidentally tested positive after seeking care for some other reason, officials say they still present a strain on resources because of the additional services needed to keep them from spreading the virus.
As long as transmission remains elevated, healthcare systems won't see much relief.
"With more cases, we're seeing more people needing medical attention, not just at our hospitals, but also at our emergency departments and urgent care centers that are filled with many folks needing care for their COVID-related illness."
In L.A. County, cremation deaths have increased from 50 a week in June to 100 a week now. L.A. County had more than 500 deaths a week during the winter.
In previous Surges, the dominant strains like Delta and Alpha stayed in place for a long time, meaning someone who was exposed could enjoy a high degree of protection for a long time.
The Omicron area has a shortened timelines. Three different subvariants have been estimated to be the dominant strain in the country. It's possible for someone to get re-infecting with a later version of Omicron after they've been exposed to an earlier version.
Chin-Hong said that a lot of people can get the virus in three or four weeks, compared to the old days, when there was a three-month window for re-infection.
Chin-Hong said he's aware of people who thought their infections would make them go out more and not worry as much. He said that the line of thinking was not good when there was a change of guard.
A raging sore throat and brain fog can be a symptom of an illness that can last weeks or even months.
It's possible that some people who have avoided getting infections are exposed to family members and friends who have loosened up on their protection.
Chin- Hong said that people are taking more risks. There's less peer pressure to wear a mask in areas where it was once commonplace because a number of people aren't wearing masks.
Recent increases in coronaviruses-positive hospitalizations have pushed L.A. County to possibly issue a new mask mandate for indoor public places. masking is required at airports, healthcare facilities and nursing homes, as well as at work sites where there have been three or more coronaviruses cases in the last two weeks.
As of Thursday, L.A. County could move from the medium COVID-19 community level to the high level.
If the county is in the high COVID-19 community level for the next three consecutive Thursdays, health officials are prepared to implement a new universal mask mandate for those 2 and older.
The story was originally published in the LA Times.