Where the BA.2 Variant Is Seeing Large Spikes as U.S. Loosens COVID Rules

The COVID-19 subvariant BA.2 has been making its way through the United States, signaling a rise in cases in certain regions as most states are loosening their mask mandates.

The BA.2 variant, a subvariant of B.1 that is commonly known as Omicron, was discovered in the U.S. in January. Using genomic sequencing to identify the variant and look specifically for different strains of SARS-CoV-2, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that BA.2 accounts for about 35 percent of the latest cases recorded in the nation.

The data, which has been updated most recently on Tuesday with figures from the week of March 12-March 19, showed that BA.2 is most prevalent in the Health and Human Services (HHS) Region 1—which includes Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. Last week, the variant accounted for 55.4 percent of the sequenced cases recorded last week.

Region 2, made up of only New York and New Jersey, also showed that 51.8 percent of the recorded genome sequenced cases were BA.2. Region 9—which includes California, Nevada, Arizona and Hawaii—had the third-highest percent of BA.2 cases last week, at 41.3 percent.

Once the epicenter of COVID-19 in the earlier days of the pandemic, New York City announced earlier this month it was lifting school mask mandates and proof of vaccination requirements for most public spaces. But since the move, recorded cases of BA.2 have begun to spike.

Three other regions showed percentages above 30. Region 10, which includes Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, showed 39 percent of its sequenced cases last week were BA.2. Region 3 (Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, Delaware and Maryland) and Region 5 (Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois and Ohio) were both just over 30 percent.

Region 7 (Iowa, Kansas Missouri and Nebraska) had the lowest percentage of BA.2 cases last week, according to the CDC, with the subvariant accounting for 19 percent of cases.

Meanwhile, nearly all states in the country have moved in the last month to end mask mandates. The CDC stated at the end of February that mask protocols could be eased for roughly 70 percent of the U.S. population.

On Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, told ABC's This Week that the BA.2 variant had a "degree of transmission advantage over the original Omicron [variant], but not a multi-fold advantage."

"It's about 50 percent to 60 percent or so more transmissible, which means ultimately it might take over as a dominant variant. So, it does have an increased transmission capability," Fauci stated.

But while the speed of transmission is more capable, the subvariant does not appear to be more dangerous than the Omicron variant.

"When you look at the cases, they do not appear to be any more severe and they do not appear to evade immune responses, either from vaccines or prior infection," Fauci said.

Newsweek has reached out to the New York City Department of Health for additional comment.

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The BA.2 Omicron subvariant has been most prevalent in some of the East Coast and New England states, according to recent CDC data. In this photo, a man wearing a protective face mask walks past a sign requiring face masks posted on a storefront in Los Angeles, California, on March 2, 2022. FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images