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BA.2 subvariant is less deadly but highly contagious

The existence of the end of our all-too-familiar pandemic is something whose existence we’ve contested time and time again. Some say it’s drawing to an end and others believe it to still be raging on at its climax. Regardless of opinions, a majority uptick in cases is a major uptick in cases, and our College is no stranger to that.

According to the Maine Center for Disease Control, the state of Maine has seen a steady rise in COVID-19 cases significant enough to warrant hospitalization in the last week, with over 1,000 new cases per day; an all-time high since March of this year.

On top of this, COVID-19 levels in wastewaters has also been experiencing a consistent increase, according to Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC, and so have the number of hospitalizations and critical cases. Since Monday, there have been 130 people hospitalized for COVID-19, a record high since March 9.

Many experts, Dr. Shah included, believe that this uptick is likely driven by the BA.2 subvariant of the virus, often nicknamed “stealth Omicron.”

The BA.2 subvariant, as its nickname implies, is a much more furtive variant of the Omicron variant, with less pronounced symptoms and fewer complications but significantly higher infectivity.

According to a statement by the World Health Organization, research surrounding this subvariant indicates that mutations in its genetic code have caused alterations to its spike proteins, bestowing it with a somewhat better ability to evade existing immunities (such as those granted by prior infections and vaccinations/boosters) as well as spread from person to person.

“BA.2 has a whole mess of new mutations that no one has tested,” Jeremy Luban, a virologist at the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School, said in regards to the large amount of novel mutations present in the BA.2 subvariant.

Regardless of the uncertainty surrounding the virus, it’s believed that the BA.2 subvariant is unlikely to cause a resurgence of infection with the severity that came with the original Omicron variant.

Dan Barouch, a virologist and immunologist at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center explained that “[the BA.2 subvariant] might prolong the Omicron surge, but would not lead to a brand-new additional surge” after observing how fully-vaccinated patients demonstrated only a marginally worse ability to generate an immune response to BA.2 relative to previous COVID-19 variants.

Despite the seemingly tamer nature of this new subvariant, our school has still been hit especially hard. The College, much like the rest of our state, is bearing the brunt of the storm as well. In just the last week, rates of COVID-19 on campus have surged dramatically and left a huge portion of our students in isolation, which is especially unfortunate timing with the conclusion of the school year right around the corner, leading to more stringent safety regulations and a greater degree of stress among students and faculty alike.

Given the circumstances surrounding the new variant as well as the state of the pandemic in our community and College, it is equally important to take necessary measures to ensure utmost safety as it is to not be overcome by fear and uncertainty.

As a community, it’s our responsibility to be informed and make logical decisions to ensure our collective safety and health, as well as maintain a positive outlook. Our health and community is in our hands, and it’s important that we recognize that.

~ Dimitri Lin `25

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