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BA.5 COVID variant is spreading in Missouri, now causes almost half of all reported cases

Medical workers at Kaiser Permanente French Campus test a patient for the coronavirus disease COVID-19 at a drive-through testing facility in San Francisco on Thursday.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Travel nurse Stacey Solomon administers a COVID-19 test to Michael Failoni, 29, of Edwardsville, in January at a testing site in St. Louis.

The BA.5 coronavirus variant is spreading rapidly throughout Missouri.

Weekly testing through Missouri’s Sewershed Surveillance Project has detected the variant in wastewater samples.

In recent weeks, the BA.5 variant has accounted for almost half of all reported cases in Missouri.

Meanwhile, the number of COVID cases in Missouri and Illinois has risen about a third in the past two weeks, according to data from the New York Times.

“I know more people personally that have gotten COVID over the last two to three weeks than I have at any time during the pandemic,” said Dr. Alexander Garza, the chief community health officer for SSM Health in St. Louis.

The BA.5 variant is more contagious than previous ones, health experts said, and previous immunity from vaccines and past infections might not protect people from getting it.

“Each of these variants that come along tends to be more transmissible than the variants that came before them,” said Nathan Koffarnus, an epidemiologist with Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services. “That's why they're winning and becoming the new variant, because they're outcompeting the prior versions.”

Still, the COVID-19 vaccine may protect people from serious illness, Koffarnus said.

Researchers are tracking the virus by testing wastewater, which shows trends in location and different variants. But the data doesn’t show how many people have contracted the BA.5 variant or include indicators like age, race or gender.

But with more people using widely available at-home test kits and not reporting positive cases to medical providers or health departments, it’s becoming a more reliable tool to track how the virus is spreading.

Missouri’s Sewershed Surveillance Project shows that a majority of cases throughout the state involve the Omicron variant, which includes all its subvariants.

The revolving door of new variants and their subvariants may be the new normal, said Dr. Hari Nallapaneni, chief medical officer for CareSTL Health.

“This is not going to go away,” Nallapaneni said.

Farrah Anderson is the newsroom intern at St. Louis Public Radio. Follow her on Twitter: @farrahsoa.

Farrah Anderson is a rising junior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where she is studying journalism. She joins the St. Louis Public Radio as a newsroom intern for Summer '22.

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