All over the world, including here in N. America, the Omicron BA 5 variant is causing another Covid wave. In Europe, infection case numbers have tripled in the last 2 weeks and hospital admission rates have more than doubled. ICU hospitalizations have also risen, but not proportionately. Death rates are also starting to rise, but similarly to ICU admission rates, not to the same degree that previous variants have resulted in. Another very clear pattern is also emerging. Vaccinated people may not be as protected against getting infected but they are much better protected against severity of disease.
Here in the US, BA5 accounts for 78% of reported new Covid cases, which have significantly increased in the last 2 weeks. We have over 100,000 new cases a day in the US but given the number of unreported cases, there are estimates as high as 1 million new infections every day. Many of these are reinfections.
Our hospitalization rates are similarly on the rise as is the death rate, albeit significantly lower than in the past. This week, we have just over 400 deaths a day.
But illness is still illness, and deaths are still deaths and we have no idea of the long-term impact these infections will have on people suffering long-haul complications. Long haul symptoms appear to be more frequent with repeat infections.
This virus is VERY infectious. Much more so than any other previous variant. On a positive note, it continues to appear to result in less severe disease. But ultimately, it’s all about the numbers. As I have stated numerous times, a small percentage of a large number is still a large number.
An even newer subvariant is now out, BA 2.75. Data is still very limited and we really don’t know much about it yet. It has been isolated in many countries, but has not yet been significantly implicated in the most recent outbreaks. BA5 still dominates.
HOW LONG TO ISOLATE.
The fact is that this newest variant hangs around and can be transmitted for the same amount of time as any previous version. The whole “5 day” reduction from the initial 10-14 days originated at a time when our healthcare system was extremely taxed at the height of the pandemic and there were very serious concerns about running out of healthcare workers to care for all of the sick people. It was suggested that 5 days after symptom onset or positive asymptomatic test, FOLLOWED by 5 days of proper (N95) masking at work was adequate and a good tradeoff for not having any healthcare coverage at all. ASSUMING symptoms were much improved. As is human nature, the public and some companies and even official bodies distorted this into only a 5 day isolation period with loose masking recommendations afterwards.
The fact is this. Studies show that 50% of people infected can continue to shed live virus at day 5 and 25% at day 10 after symptom onset or positive test. And with a significantly more infectious variant, that is still very concerning. To me, 5 days is NOT enough. And wearing a cloth or even surgical mask after that timeframe is completely inadequate.
SHOULD I TEST AFTER INFECTION.
Absolutely not. It is irrelevant. First of all, there are plenty of false negatives. Secondly, there are plenty of false positives, even with the home antigen test, for weeks and even months. A negative test on day 6 should give you NO reassurance you are no longer sick or can not transmit the virus! On the flipside, a positive test on day 10 does NOT mean you are still infectious, unless you have been not behaving responsibly and have become reinfected again (which can absolutely happen, especially with BA5). By day 10, 99% of people are no longer infectious.
Please continue to be careful out there and remember that there is still a very infectious, malicious virus out there which can, and will continue to cause problems for us for a long time.
Have a great weekend and please try to be safe (and cool).