The rate of daily new COVID cases in the U.S. has come down drastically since the Omicron surge reached its peak in mid-January. But after dropping for nearly three months, the national daily infection average has plateaued at around 30,000 over the past two weeks, according to data from The New York Times. Now, experts warn that the highly contagious BA.2 Omicron subvariant could cause cases to surge again, with certain states bearing the brunt early on. Read on to see which areas could see another wave of the virus.
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Due to renewed spikes of COVID cases in countries such as Germany and the U.K. in recent weeks, experts have warned that the U.S. could see its own uptick in infections based on how reliably surges abroad have preceded an increase stateside. During an appearance on CNBC’s Squawk Box on April 5, Scott Gottlieb, MD, former Food & Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner, pointed out that any forthcoming surge would likely affect certain states first.
“It’s probably going to be centered in the Northeast, maybe Florida,” he predicted. “I think by the time it starts to spread nationally, we’ll already be deep into the summer, and that’ll provide a seasonal backstop.”
But while cases may go back up in the coming weeks, Gottlieb was also quick to point out that he believes current case levels are being “dramatically” underreported in certain regions due to the increased use of at-home testing kits. He estimated that only one in seven or one in eight infections is being counted in official reports in areas such as the Northeast.
The former FDA head also became cautiously optimistic that the U.S. may actually be further along in the expected BA.2 surge than many realize, adding that the surges in Germany and the U.K. that set off alarm bells in the U.S. already appear to be declining rapidly. “I think we’re further into this than we perceive,” he said.
More specifically, Gottlieb said even if a BA.2 wave does send cases back up, “it’s probably not going to be a national wave of infection” like previous surges. “We’ll have to contend with this in the fall,” he told Squawk Box. “If [BA.2] is still the dominant variant in places in the country that it really didn’t get in right now, it’ll start to spread in the fall as people’s immunity starts to wane, they get further out from their vaccination and their prior infection from Omicron.”
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Gottlieb’s prediction comes a week after BA.2 was declared the dominant version of the virus in the U.S. As of April 4, the latest subvariant makes up 72 percent of cases, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). By comparison, the highly contagious viral offshoot—estimated to be anywhere from 30 to 80 percent more transmissible than the BA.1 subvariant that drove cases to their pandemic highs in January—made up only roughly one percent of COVID variants in the U.S. in early February, CNBC reports.
But even as cases plateau, some officials have pointed out that a combination of factors could help soften the blow of the latest subvariant. “The high level of immunity in the population from vaccines, boosters, and previous infection will provide some level of protection against BA.2,” CDC director Rochelle Walensky, MD, said during a White House COVID briefing on April 5.
Gottlieb wasn’t alone in his prediction that the latest viral offshoot may not have as much of an impact as its predecessors. During a March 22 Washington Post Live event, top White House COVID adviser Anthony Fauci, MD, said it’s likely the U.S. will see a rise in cases similar to what was experienced in Europe, as BA.2 continues to spread alongside a relaxation of restrictions and waning immunity in the population. However, he doesn’t think the wave will be similar to what Omicron brought.
“I would not be surprised at all if we do see somewhat of an uptick,” he said. “The extent of it and the degree to which it impacts seriousness of disease like hospitalizations and death remains to be seen. I don’t really see, unless something changes dramatically, that there would be a major surge.”
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