What happens in New York doesn’t stay in New York – at least not during a pandemic.
As scientists speculate on what a fall COVID wave in the US might look like, all eyes are on the Empire State. That’s because it’s seen as a “guidepost” when it comes to viral diseases, and what’s happening there often offers a preview of the rest of the country.
Right now, New York is seeing increasing cases of extremely transmissible, immune-evading BQ family of COVID variants, which contains BQ.1 and BQ.1.1. experts say wealth that because such varieties thrive there, they are likely to thrive elsewhere in the country as well.
BQ variants – along with XBB variants on the rise in other parts of the world– are considered to be the most immune-preventable COVID strains to date. The jury is still out on how severe these strains are, but there are early reports that monoclonal antibody treatments reserved for high-risk patients can’t stand them.
“We are really worried about BQ.1.1 and a close look at New York data,” Raj Rajnarayanan, associate dean for research and associate professor at the New York Institute of Technology campus in Jonesboro, Ark., recently examined the Variant Tracker said wealth.
Together, Omicron spawns BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 follow “the same script” as other previously dominant variants – like the original strain of COVID, Delta, and the original strain of Omicron – by initiating a swell in the Northeast that eventually could flooding the rest of the US, colleague variant tracker Dr. Ryan Gregory, Professor of Evolutionary Biology at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada Wealth.
New York’s hospitalization rate
New York is a veritable crystal ball when it comes to COVID forecasts for several reasons: its volume of inbound international travelers and its robust capabilities for genetic sequencing of COVID virus samples, experts say.
When a variant gains a foothold in Europe, as the BQ family has, trackers like Rajnarayanan and Gregory know to look for it in the US. The first place they check: New York.
Levels of the BQ variants almost doubled this week in the New York region of the CDC, which also includes New Jersey, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. The BQ family rose to more than 17% this week from an estimated 9% last week, according to agency data.
The rapid rate of growth worries scientists, including leading US infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, who recently called the viral family’s doubling timequite annoying.”
What worries Rajnarayanan more, however, is that hospital admissions are also increasing in New York. In mid-September they were around 2,000 a day. a month later, they are approaching 3,000according to the state.
The state’s current hospitalization wave is “pretty close, if not higher than the delta peak,” he said, referring to the deadly COVID wave that rocked the US late last year, just before Omicron arrived.
Another sign of increasing viral activity: Google Searches in New York for “cough” are five to seven times higher than usual, Rajnarayanan said, citing a Dashboard he created with data from Google Trends. In addition to “sore throat” and “diarrhea”, “blocked nose”, “headache” and “migraine” are also searched for.
“There’s something going on,” he said.
“An Ugly Peak”
The U.S. is likely not far behind New York when it comes to a spike in BQ cases, Rajnarayanan says, as other parts of the country are also slowly seeing the variant family growing.
Estimated cases of BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 – dubbed “Typhon” and “Cerberus” respectively by some public health experts on the Twitterverse – rose from about 12% nationwide last week to nearly 17% this week, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced on Friday. Experts say national BQ values are likely lagging behind those in New York, where most of the first US sequences were identified.
Nobody can predict which variant will prevail this winter. But the extreme immune evasiveness and transmissibility of BQ.1.1 “makes it the main driver of the next US wave in the coming weeks,” said Dr. Eric Topol, Professor of Molecular Medicine at Scripps Research and Founder and Director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, tweeted last week.
Waves of COVID variants used to be fairly sequential, often with a trough or plateau in between. But now, more than 500 Omicron variants are in circulation according to Rajnarayanan – some, like members of the XBB familywith the potential to cause their own subsequent surges.
The coming US COVID wave, he predicts, will not be just one wave but a series of waves – each driven by a different variant – forming a “table mesa” or “table-like plateau”.
The extended wave will have an “ugly peak because a combination of different lineages will peak and then fall off,” he said. “I won’t celebrate when one goes down because something else will come up.”
It’s possible that the coming winter wave won’t be too dissimilar to what the US has already experienced in terms of hospitalizations and deaths. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be without consequences, say experts.
“Even if 200,000, 300,000, 400,000 people get infected, some of them are likely to develop Long COVID‘ said Rajnarayanan. “It will impact the workforce, those who cannot work remotely. It’s a huge problem.”
“I don’t think we have a proper plan for that as a country,” he continued. “I would like to see a long COVID plan before we start declaring that the pandemic is over.”