The omicron sub-variant known as “stealth omicron” – technically BA.2 – has gained attention by spreading to around 50 countries, including the United States.
The idea that it might be more contagious than the original omicron variant – BA.1 – is enough to cause concern, given the extent of the disruption the first version caused by taking control of delta in as the dominant strain of the coronavirus.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, acknowledged in a press conference the slightly higher infectiousness of BA.2, but said it was only linked to 1.5% of cases. from the country.
“What we know of BA.2 so far is that it has a modest transmission advantage over BA.1. However, it’s not close to the transmission advantage we saw between omicron and delta,” Walensky said. “We haven’t seen any studies suggesting it’s more serious, or any studies suggesting it will evade our vaccines any more than omicron already has, and in fact that our vaccines would work just like they did with omicron.”‘
Public health experts have said the stealth omicron may slow the current decline in infections across the country, but likely won’t stop it. This has generally happened in other countries, with a few exceptions such as Denmark, where BA.2 has become dominant.
Walensky said it coincided with the easing of the mitigation measures, adding, “That’s why we’re keeping them in place right now, among the reasons.”
Also in the news:
► For more than two years, the isolation of the Pacific archipelago nation of Tonga has helped keep COVID-19 at bay. But last month’s volcanic eruption and tsunami brought desperately needed deliveries of fresh water and medicine outside – and brought the virus.
► Amid extraordinary COVID-19 restrictions, Bob Costas says NBC was dealt “the worst hand imaginable” with the Beijing Olympics.
📈 The numbers of the day: The United States has had more than 75 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 897,000 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Global totals: Over 388 million cases and over 5.7 million deaths. More than 212 million Americans — 63.9% — are fully immunized, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
📘 What we read: Contrary to scientific evidence and warnings from health agencies, hundreds of doctors across the country continue to prescribe ivermectin – encouraged by a little-known national group of doctors – to prevent and treat COVID-19. During the omicron wave, they were busier than ever, writing tens of thousands of prescriptions.
Keep refreshing this page for the latest news. Want more? Sign up for USA TODAY’s free Coronavirus Watch newsletter to get updates straight to your inbox and join our Facebook group.
Nursing shortage pushes hospitals to consider foreign healthcare workers
As US hospitals face a severe shortage of nurses amid a long-running pandemic, many are looking overseas for healthcare workers.
And it could be just in time.
There are an unusually high number of green cards available this year for foreign professionals, including nurses, who want to move to the United States – twice as many as just a few years ago. Indeed, US consulates closed during the coronavirus pandemic were not issuing visas to relatives of US citizens and, by law, these unused slots are now being transferred to eligible workers.
Amy L. Erlbacher-Anderson, an immigration attorney in Omaha, Nebraska, said she’s seen more demand for foreign nurses in two years than the rest of her 18-year career. And this year, she said, they are more likely to get permission to come, as long as US consular offices can process all applications.
“We have double the number of visas available for decades,” she said. “It kind of temporarily creates a very open situation.”
Why cold temperatures could affect your home COVID test results
At the same time, most Americans are dealing with cold fronts and winter storms, they also expect their government home COVID-19 tests to arrive in the mail.
Most home COVID-19 test brands recommend storing the tests above 35 degrees. The liquid reagent inside the cartridge that comes with home tests is susceptible to freezing, and if that happens, the accuracy of results decreases, said Cindy Pins, associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Florida, at USA TODAY.
As the federal government launches a program to send free home COVID-19 tests to Americans who register through the COVIDTests.gov website, 1 billion tests have been ordered for distribution to Americans through the U.S. Postal Service.
But could prolonged cold or freezing temperatures affect test results sent by the government? It depends on how cold it is, experts said.
— Gabriela Miranda, USA TODAY
‘I miss everything’: Depression rates for older people skyrocket amid pandemic
Even before the pandemic, advocates and health experts warned of loneliness and social isolation among the country’s elderly population. Now, nearly two years later, they say government mandates and precautionary measures designed to control the virus by limiting social interactions have taken emotional, mental and physical toll.
Geriatrics workers say rates of depression and anxiety increased in their clients during this time, and in more severe cases these conditions led to cognitive and physical deterioration or worse.
“People experienced cognitive decline from lack of stimulation, and it persisted,” said Stacey Malcolmson, president and CEO of Senior Source. “For those with underlying mental health issues like dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, we found that this cognitive decline is irreversible.”
— Marc Ramirez, USA TODAY
Contribute: The Associated Press