These States Are "Experiencing an Outbreak" of the BA.2 COVID Variant
A former FDA chief says the actual number of cases is also likely being undercounted.
Although it's been over two years since the pandemic began, it was only a few short months ago when case counts reached their highest points during the Omicron surge. However, the sustained drop in cases on a national level has begun to reverse course as yet another version of the virus continues to spread. And according to one expert, certain states are already "experiencing an outbreak" at the hands of the BA.2 COVID variant. Read on to see which areas are seeing infections rise the most right now.
States in the Northeast, mid-Atlantic, and Florida are "experiencing an outbreak" of the BA.2 subvariant.
During an April 10 appearance on CBS' Face the Nation, Scott Gottlieb, MD, former Food & Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner, was asked about the current state of the pandemic. He pointed out that while national case numbers have dropped significantly to nine cases per 100,000 people per day, certain areas were seeing an outsized number of infections due to the latest subvariant.
"There's no question that we're experiencing an outbreak here in the Northeast, also the mid-Atlantic, parts of Florida as well, which tends to track the Northeast. It's driven largely by BA.2," he said, citing that cases had gone up 58 percent in New York City, 65 percent in New Jersey, and 89 percent in Washington, D.C. over the past two weeks.
Officials are likely undercounting cases as people test at home or skip them altogether.
However, Gottlieb suggested that there may be more of a surge in some states than numbers would indicate, primarily due to increases in at-home testing across the U.S. "We're probably only picking up one in seven or one in eight infections. So when we say there are 30,000 infections a day, there's probably closer to a quarter of a million infections a day. And they're concentrated in the Northeast right now."
Officials have noticed a significant drop in the number of COVID tests. After hitting a high of 2 million tests per day during the height of the Omicron surge in January, the national seven-day average had dropped to nearly 586,000 daily tests as of April 7, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Some experts believe this may have to do with the different nature of the latest subvariant. "The milder symptoms become, the less likely people are to test or show up in official case counts," David Dowdy, MD, PhD, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told NBC News.
Experts believe there may not be a national wave of cases in the coming weeks.
Despite the spike in infections, Gottlieb remained cautiously optimistic about the overall outlook for the near future. "The rest of the country looks pretty good right now. And I think the net trajectory is that we're likely to get through this BA.2 wave," he predicted. "It's likely to be regionalized. I don't think it's going to become a nationalized epidemic of BA.2. And as we get further into the spring, we're likely to see these case counts come down, even here in the Northeast."
Other experts echoed Gottlieb's assessment. During an appearance on the NBC's Today show on April 11, White House COVID-19 response coordinator Ashish Jha, MD, also addressed the recent spike in cases, saying: "I'm not overly concerned right now. Case numbers are rising—BA.2—we were expecting this because we saw this in Europe a few weeks ago."
"But the good news is we're coming off still very low infection numbers," he continued. "Hospitalizations are the lowest they have been in the entire pandemic. So we've got to watch this very carefully, obviously—I never like to see infections rising. I think we've got to be careful, but I don't think this is a moment where we have to be excessively concerned."
Some top health officials predict the next major wave of cases won't arrive until fall.
But even if the U.S. may avoid a national case spike in the near term, one top official is warning that it may only be a matter of time. In an April 6 conversation for Bloomberg's Balance of Power podcast, chief White House COVID advisor Anthony Fauci, MD, spoke with host David Westin on the future of the pandemic, cautioning that cooler temperatures come fall could lead to a surge in COVID cases.
Experts can look back at the history of cold and flu infections to make informed decisions and predict what to expect in the coming seasons. But with COVID, which has now been part of our lives for over two years, officials are still navigating "uncharted waters," Fauci said on the podcast.
"I would think that we should expect that we are going to see some increase in cases as you get to the colder weather in the fall," he said. "That's the reason why the [Food and Drug Administration] and their advisory committee are meeting right now to plan a strategy, and we at the [National Institutes of Health] are doing studies now to determine what the best boost would be."