The highly contagious Omicron BA.2 is now the dominant variant of Covid-19 in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, comprising more than half of new cases reported in the country last week.
The subvariant, which is more transmissible but not more severe than the original Omicron variant that hit the U.S. earlier this year, spread widely last week, according to CDC data released on Tuesday. BA.2 now accounts for more than 54 percent of cases nationally, up from 39 percent the previous week.
BA.2 accounted for more than 70 percent of Covid-19 cases in New York, which had been on the front line of previous surges during the pandemic.
Though the new subvariant continues to spread, the overall numbers of Covid-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations are still falling in the U.S. A daily average of 27,775 new cases and 690 new deaths were reported as of March 27, according to the CDC. According to the agency’s calculations, more than 91 percent of the country remains in a low-risk area.
Nevertheless, the Biden administration has been ringing alarm bells, warning that it is not prepared if the country gets hit with a new surge, should BA.2 or another future variant take off in numbers like America saw this winter with Omicron.
The administration has asked Congress for $22.5 billion to bolster America’s supplies of vaccines, treatments and testing should that happen, but lawmakers have balked on how much should be spent and how to pay for another round of Covid-19 aid.
President Joe Biden’s 2023 budget, released on Monday, asked for $127 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services, including $81.7 billion to boost pandemic preparedness and biodefense.
That figure does not include the more urgent tranche of Covid-19 aid that the White House wants from Congress. HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra characterized the budget funding requests as designed for “long-term preparedness … What we need to finish the job on Covid, we need immediately,” he said at a press briefing on Monday.
BA.2 might be spreading quickly, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will do more harm or cause another massive surge, says David Dowdy, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
“This virus, like any virus, has evolutionary pressure to become more transmissible,” says Dowdy. But he says, it “has no pressure to become more deadly. All it wants to do is survive. It’s not out there to kill us.”