Fauci says the U.S. is at a “crossroads” as COVID-19 kills 2,600 people a week, and new versions of Omicron bloom early in the winter.

Fauci says the U.S. is at a “crossroads” as COVID-19 kills 2,600 people a week, and new versions of Omicron bloom early in the winter.

The U.S. is approaching a difficult COVID crossroads as the cold winter months approach and new immune-evading variants of Omicron emerge, said White House Chief Medical Advisor Anthony Fauci.

While the situation is certainly different from last winter, when Omicron dominated all other options, the new “version soupOmicron subtypes such as XBB, BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 are gaining ground across the country, wiping out key tools used to protect immunocompromised people.

“We’re really at a point that could be a crossroads here. As we move into the colder months, we’re starting to see the emergence of Omicron-derived variants.” Fauci said Conversations about healthcare radio show Thursday.

Long-term warnings

For months, Fauci had been warning that a new, more immune-evasive variant would emerge by winter. He used to alerted on Omicron’s BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 substrates because of their fast infection rates and apparent ability to evade antibody treatment.

Fauci assured that healthy people with vaccinations, boosters and/or previously naturally infected with a subtype like BA.5 will be protected from the new subtypes. However, US health officials fear that antibody treatments such as Evusheld, which prevent COVID-19 in severely immunocompromised people, will become ineffective in the face of these new options.

Fauci also stressed in an interview Thursday that the epidemic was far from over. The number of deaths from the coronavirus, still averaging 2,600 a week, remains extremely high, Fauci stressed, adding that “we are still in the middle of it, it is not over. “Four hundred deaths a day is not an acceptable level.”

A version of soup

Over the past two years, colder temperatures have brought seasonal spikes in COVID cases, which have then turned into massive waves of infection following the emergence of new highly transmissible variants such as Alpha and Omicron.

This year, “there’s this soup of options,” says Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College London. said Atlantic. While no new variants have yet emerged, Fauci and other experts are keeping a close eye on potentially worrisome viral strains called BQ.1 and XBB, which could soon monopolize infections in some parts of the world.

These two new subspecies originated from Omicron; BQ.1 comes from BA.5, while XBB comes from two different BA.2 lineages that have recombined into one.

Experts in Asia are paying close attention to the XBB strain, which has gained a significant foothold in countries such as Bangladesh and Singapore, calling it one. immune evasive variants yet.

Meanwhile, in the US, the previous BA.5 variant is still the most dominant strain, accounting for more than 49.6% of cases between October 23 and October 29, but the number of BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 cases is stable. growing every week. The BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 strains now account for a combined 27% of all COVID infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nowcast:when just a month ago the two strains accounted for only 1.7% of all cases.

The BQ.1 and XBB are so different from each other that they could eventually go together, Peacock says, but he notes that it’s too early to tell for sure.

However, our holiday plans may be in jeopardy as Peacock grimly warns that we may soon be in for an unwelcome surprise, just as Omicron disrupted winter expectations last Thanksgiving.

November 4, 2022: This article’s headline has been updated with the correct number of weekly COVID deaths.

This story was originally published Fortune.com

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