- by New Deal democrat
As we start Thanksgiving week, let’s take a look at the current state of COVID.
The Alphabet Soup of variants (most of which are direct descendants of BA.5), primarily BQ.1&1.1, has largely displaced their parent, which is down to 24% of all cases:
Typically new waves have peaked when the displaced variant is down to 10% or so of all cases, which should be the case with BA.5 in two or three weeks.
This is noteworthy, because as we will see below, the Alphabet Soup variants have not yet caused any real wave at all.
In the below graphs, I’m going to show the entire 2.5 year history of COVID as to each for comparison purposes.
Here’s BIobot’s waste particles data (dark line) vs. confirmed cases (light line):
Since the end of last year, many people have relied on home tests and not bothered with confirmation, so the “real” number of cases is roughly equal to the peaks of the first 3 waves of the pandemic. This makes sense since each new variant has been more immune-evasive than the previous variants.
Regionally, we do see the likely beginning of a winter wave in the West, and also perhaps in the Midwest (but not the Northeast at all!):
Despite this, hospitalizations are not elevated at all:
And deaths (thick line), when compared with cases (thin line), are near their all-time lows:
This has not gone unnoticed. Dr. Eric Topol, in his substack, calls the BQ.1.x variants the first displacing variants not to cause a new wave, pointing out that:
“in New York State, which has the highest level of BQ.1.1 in the US, there continues to be no sign of hospital admissions increasing. If anything, that rate is decreasing.”
“It would be tempting to interpret the lack of impact of BQ.1.1, relative to its immune evasion properties, as we’re out of the woods. A population-level immunity wall has been built up over 3 years, with all the infections and vaccinations. Further, our T-cell immunity from these exposures, which isn’t assessed with these neutralization antibody assays, is helping us defend against variants. The optimistic viewpoint is that there’s little more that the Omicron family can throw at us which will be much worse than what we’ve already seen. That we’re done, going endemic, that the acute phase of the pandemic with big waves is over.
“Not so fast. As Daniele Focosi reminded us this week, the SARS-CoV-2 mutation rate has increased by 30% in the past year. There still could be room within Omicron, and especially the XBB recombinants, to pose a significant threat. Moreover, there’s the dismal prospect of a whole new family of variants to emerge (e.g. Sigma) that are distinct from the mutation cascade we’ve seen from Omicron for over a year.”
For now, I’m gong to go with the more optimistic scenario. As to XBB, that was responsible for a wave in Singapore, that quickly came and went all in the month of October:
And no new lineage has managed to displace Omicron for the past full year.
In the meantime, I would still mask up in all public indoor spaces, not just for COVID, but to avoid this year’s bad flu outbreak as well.