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News >  Health

Too early to tell what a BA.2 surge would look like in Inland Northwest

March 23, 2022 Updated Wed., March 23, 2022 at 9:54 p.m.

This electron microscope image made available and color-enhanced by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Integrated Research Facility in Fort Detrick, Md., shows Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 virus particles.  (HOGP)
This electron microscope image made available and color-enhanced by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Integrated Research Facility in Fort Detrick, Md., shows Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 virus particles. (HOGP)

It’s too early to tell what an increase in the subvariant of omicron, called BA.2, will mean for the Inland Northwest.

The University of Washington’s Virology Lab is detecting the variant at higher levels than it has seen previously in the state.

The latest state data show that 28% of the samples sequenced between March 6 and March 12 were BA.2, while the rest of samples were the original omicron strain.

But Spokane County Health Officer Dr. Francisco Velázquez said that the majority of those BA.2 specimens have been in King County, with just a handful found in Spokane County. This pattern has emerged with other variants in the past: cities see the first confirmed cases of new variants.

The international experience with BA.2 spells out a cautionary tale: cases are surging in Europe, and some densely populated areas of the United States are seeing an uptick.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data show that BA.2 represents nearly 35% of circulating variants in the country, but in some places, including in New York and parts of New England, BA.2 levels are above 50%, according to the director.

But not all countries have the same experience. For example, in Hong Kong, Velázquez said, many elderly people were not vaccinated against the virus, which has helped fuel its BA.2 surge.

Spokane County is 56% fully vaccinated, and the omicron surge likely offered some immunity to those who got infected in the past few months.

“We know natural immunity will help bolster protection in the community and as spring comes and we’re diligent and cautious, we should fare well through the next phase of the pandemic,” Velázquez said.

Case counts and hospitalizations are still trending downward in the Inland Northwest.

That doesn’t mean the pandemic is over, however, and as BA.2 cases increase nationwide and in the state, the region may also see an increase.

“The question is ‘When?’ and ‘How many?’ ” Velázquez said.

He added it’s a bit early to know the timing of when the subvariant will affect the community.

If immunity from the original variant offers protection against reinfection, it’s possible that the next surge will be brief and short-lived as it appears to have been in some European countries. Data from Denmark show that reinfection with BA.2 among those who had the original strain of the omicron was low, Velázquez said.

Vaccines and boosters are the best way to ensure people do not get sick enough with COVID-19 to require hospitalization, he said.

So far, 52% of the eligible population in Spokane County has received a booster dose.

Velázquez said boosters are important, especially for people who might have been vaccinated and then got a breakthrough infection with omicron earlier this year. The immunity offered by having a case of the virus and then getting vaccinated is some of the strongest protection available.

With more than the initial two doses recommended, some might see that as a sign that the vaccines aren’t working.

Velázquez cautioned against this.

“I want to make sure we dispel that myth. Vaccines do work and the reason why dosing may be changing is because we’re learning how to use it the most effective way possible,” he said.

Here’s a look at local numbers

The Spokane Regional Health District reported 35 new COVID cases on Wednesday and no additional deaths.

There are 35 patients hospitalized with the virus in Spokane.

The Panhandle Health District reported seven additional deaths and 135 cases, most of which are backlogged from the omicron surge.

There have been 940 deaths due to COVID-19 in Panhandle residents.

There are 32 Panhandle residents hospitalized with the virus.

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is primarily funded by the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, with additional support from Report for America and members of the Spokane community. These stories can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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