A fast-moving form of omicron is now the dominant coronavirus variant as the U.S. heads into the third Memorial Day weekend of the pandemic.
BA.2.12.1 does not appear to cause more severe disease but spreads faster than earlier forms of omicron, which caused a major spike over the winter holidays.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said BA.2.12.1 accounts for 57.9% of sequenced cases in the U.S. compared to 39.1% from BA.2, the last omicron spinoff to cause concern, according to figures updated Tuesday.
Efficient variants have bedeviled President Biden’s response to the coronavirus. Things were looking up last Memorial Day, with cases and hospitalization declining alongside the vaccine campaign.
Waves of the delta variant over the summer and omicron in the winter revealed the limits of the vaccines in thwarting any kind of infection, though scientists believe available shots hold up against severe disease.
Drugmakers are retooling their shots to specifically target variants and will report their findings this summer to the Food and Drug Administration and CDC, which are responsible for authorizing shots and deciding how they should be deployed. Regulators and advisers will determine whether specially tailored vaccines are needed instead of the vaccines used now.
The U.S. is recording more than 100,000 cases per day, on average, versus fewer than 25,000 per day around this time last year.
The latest surge appears to be stabilizing, however, particularly in Northeast states like New Jersey and New York.
Roughly 25,000 people are hospitalized for the virus in the U.S., a similar count to this time last year, giving federal officials hope that treatments and widespread immunity is blunting the impact of omicron-related surges.
Some school districts are bringing back mask rules to try and control the spread, even as city and state officials avoid sweeping mandates.
A federal judge in April struck down the Biden administration’s rule requiring mask-wearing on public transportation.
• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at email@example.com.
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