Coronavirus update: Omicron subvariant spreads quickly, study finds

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Another study finds that a COVID-19 vaccination helps against the Omicron variant

COVID-19 ‌tally‌ ‌as‌ ‌‌compiled‌‌ ‌by‌ ‌Johns‌ ‌Hopkins‌ ‌University.‌ ‌(Previous‌ ‌numbers‌ ‌in‌ ‌parentheses.)‌

Total‌ ‌U.S.‌ ‌confirmed‌ ‌cases:‌ 78,744,318 (78,651,396)

Total‌ ‌U.S.‌ ‌deaths:‌ 942,487 (939,216)

Total‌ ‌global‌ ‌cases:‌ 430,507,279 (428,310,991)

Total ‌global‌ ‌deaths:‌ 5,922,220 (5,910,063)‌

New studies shed more light on Omicron subvariant

A subvariant of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has begun to spread around the U.S., but scientists aren’t sure whether it’s better or worse than the original. On one hand, a study suggests that it may be capable of causing more serious symptoms.

But two new studies show that the human immune system is already adapting to defend against the subvariant, codenamed BA.2. But the subvariant appears to be about 30% more transmissible than BA.1.

"As of now, I don't think that we need to sound a global alarm. But I do think that we need to pay attention to BA.2 because it does appear to have a growth advantage over BA.1," Dr. Dan Barouch, director of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, told CNN.

Vaccinations help against Omicron, another study finds

The surge in COVID-19 cases caused by the highly contagious Omicron variant coincided with a rise in hospitalizations of patients with COVID-19. But an analysis of those serious cases found that vaccinated adults who got infected were much less likely to require hospital treatment.

"Overall, the Omicron-period group had a lower likelihood of being admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) and were also less likely to require invasive mechanical ventilation compared with the delta-period group,” said Dr. Matthew Modes, a pulmonologist at Cedars-Sinai and co-first author of the paper.

The study was conducted jointly by Cedars-Sinai Hospital and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Its findings line up with previous studies that suggest vaccinations help prevent serious COVID-19 infections.

Americans’ blood pressure rose during the pandemic

Even if you were never infected with COVID-19 over the last two years, the pandemic may have negatively affected your health. Americans’ blood pressure rose moderately during the early months of the pandemic, according to a UT Southwestern study of patients who monitored themselves at home. Doctors say the results aren’t all that surprising.

“People were less active, ate more, and drank more during the pandemic, all of which led to higher blood pressure,” said Dr. Eric Peterson, lead author of the study. "COVID made it challenging for people to see their doctors and have their medications adjusted.” 

The study, published in the American Heart Journal, found that rates of uncontrolled high blood pressure went from 15% to 19%, though only 5% of participants had severely uncontrolled blood pressure, which is defined as systolic blood pressure greater than 160 mm/hg. 

Around the nation

  • Florida: With a sharp decline in COVID-19 cases, Broward Health has announced that it is now in the green phase, which means a return pre-pandemic visitation policies. The change means more friends and family members will be allowed inside to visit loved ones who are being treated.

  • New Jersey: State health officials report that there are now fewer than 1,000 people being treated for COVID-19 in New Jersey hospitals. That’s the lowest number in over three months. That was just before a surge in new cases caused by the Omicron variant.

  • Michigan: The Michigan House of Representatives has approved a “right to try” bill that would allow dying COVID-19 patients to take medication that hasn’t been approved for the treatment of the virus. “I think we should truly respect the decision between a patient and a doctor with a willing manufacturer and get politics and government out of that relationship,” said State House Rep. Mary Whiteford, the bill’s sponsor.

  • Colorado: Colorado is now eyeing a post-coronavirus world, as the number of daily cases this week fell below 1,000 for the first time since early August. Hospitalizations also dropped to levels last seen in August.

  • Alaska: The Alaska Legislative Council voted this week to eliminate some COVID-19 mandates. As a result of the vote, lawmakers and others who work in the Alaska State Capitol are no longer required to wear masks and be tested for the coronavirus.

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