Beshear says Omicron BA.2 subvariant circulating in Kentucky; public-health advice is the same: get vaccinated and boosted

Illustration by the University of California at Los Angeles

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News
While the pandemic continues to wane in Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear cautioned Thursday that the more contagious BA.2 subvariant of the coronavirus is circulating in the state.
At his weekly press conference, Beshear said Omicron BA.2 had been confirmed in 29 Kentucky residents from 13 counties since the first week of February, and “Molecular sequencing is performed on only a small subset of cases, so there have likely been many more BA.2 infections that haven’t been confirmed.”
WLKY-TV reports that the new variant has been found in Louisville wastewater, according to Louisville Metro Health and Wellness. 
Beshear said Kentucky’s level of BA.2 is probably close to the national average of 35%, according to sequencing done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the week ended March 19.
He said there is still much to learn about this variant and it is too soon to know if it will lead to excess hospitalizations or deaths, more severe disease or more resistance to either natural or vaccine-induced immunity.
“Based on early studies, it’s thought to spread faster, be more infectious and replicate more efficient than the original Omicron, which would make it one of the most contagious viruses at least in our lifetimes, if not what we know of human history,” Beshear said. “But we do not necessarily have evidence that is going to harm people any more than Omicron, and we certainly hope less.”
What we do know, he said, is that the Covid-19 vaccine and booster shots protects against severe illness, hospitalization and death, he said. In addition, Kentuckians can choose to wear a quality mask if they are concerned.
White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci said on ABC’s “This Week” last Sunday, “We’ll likely see an uptick in cases, as we’ve seen in the European countries, particularly the U.K. Hopefully we won’t see a surge. I don’t think we will. The easiest way to prevent that is to continue to get people vaccinated . . . to continue to get them boosted.”
In Kentucky, 56% of the total population is fully vaccinated and only 44% of the eligible vaccinated population has had a booster shot, which experts say is needed for immunity to all forms of Omicron.
Beshear said, “If you haven’t gotten your booster yet, please go get it. . . . Again, living with a virus is not the same as ignoring it and living as opposed to dying from a virus means taking the steps that protect you and protect your family.”
That message was reiterated in an op-ed for the Lexington Herald-Leader by Dr. Kevin Kavanagh, founder of HealthWatch USA, who continues to encourage Kentuckians to remain cautious.
“In the two weeks ending on March 19, the national total infection rate had fallen by 37%, but the percentage of BA.2 in newly infected individuals more than doubled with a 177% increase,” he wrote.
In closing, he said, “The BA.2 variant may well cause another surge. At this point, we should not let down our guard and relax mitigation strategies. We must respect others, some of whom [will] wear a mask to protect, but above all, get vaccinated along with obtaining boosters when indicated.”
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