DETROIT – Coronavirus cases appear to be stabilizing in Michigan, but in other parts of the world, they are increasing.
Many experts are attributing much of the rise to the omicron variant known as BA.2. The viruses that cause COVID have changed over time and there are many variants.
When they become interesting or concerning enough that they merit special attention, the World Health Organization assigns them a letter from the Greek Alphabet.
The most well-known variants of concern lately have been delta and omicron. But even within these variants there can be big changes. Not big enough to deserve a new Greek letter, but different enough that they are given a sub-classification.
Omicron has a couple, but the biggest ones are the original BA.1 that swept through a few months ago and now BA.2.
What makes BA.2 special is that it’s more contagious, meaning when you’re exposed it can infect you more easily.
For people who have been vaccinated, or were recently infected, there should be enough protection to prevent you from getting sick and almost certainly enough to protect you from serious illness.
The problem is that there are still lots of people who either haven’t been vaccinated or weren’t recently infected. Because BA.2 is more contagious, it’s easily finding and infecting those people.
The good news about BA.2 is that it does not appear to be more likely to produce severe illness than BA.1. That doesn’t mean it can’t produce severe illness, just that it’s not more likely to.
The proportion of BA.2 in the U.S. has steadily grown in the past two months and it’s now responsible for more than a third of new infections. What’s most likely happening now, is that BA.2 is causing a bump in new cases as it gets to people who aren’t vaccinated or weren’t infected recently enough to have any immunity.
Deltacron is another variant that hasn’t been officially named yet. It has some structural and genetic elements of both Delta and Omicron. It’s mainly only been detected in small numbers in Europe and it’s too early to give any meaningful prediction on whether it will develop into an issue.