FAQ: BA.4 and BA.5, potentially the most transmissible Omicron subvariants yet

America’s current COVID-19 surge is being driven by BA.2 and its sublineage BA.2.12.1. But there are other versions of Omicron out there to which we need to pay attention—namely, BA.4 and BA.5. Here’s a brief FAQ on these two subvariants, including why scientists are concerned about them and where they’re spreading in the U.S.

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How one wastewater plant became a leading COVID-19 forecasting source

This week, I had a new story published with FiveThirtyEight and the Documenting COVID-19 project about the data and implementation challenges of wastewater surveillance. As bonus material in today’s COVID-19 Data Dispatch, I wanted to share one of the interviews I did for the story, which provides a good case study of the benefits and challenges of COVID-19 surveillance in wastewater.

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Omicron keeps mutating as U.S. cases rise

As though it’s not already confusing enough to distinguish between Omicron BA.1 and BA.2, more sublineages have popped up in recent weeks as Omicron continues to spread and mutate. Here are two that I’m watching, though they don’t seem to be major causes for concern at this time.

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The US still doesn’t have the data we need to make informed decisions on booster shots

Last fall, I wrote that the U.S. did not have the data we needed to make informed decisions about booster shots. Several months later, we still don’t have the data we need, as questions about a potential BA.2 wave and other future variants abound. Discussions at a recent FDA advisory committee meeting made these data gaps clear.

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National numbers, April 3

Nationwide, COVID-19 cases in the U.S. have reached a plateau. New cases decreased only 3% from the previous week to this week, following an 8% decrease the week before that. Thanks to BA.2, we may be due for an uptick soon.

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A BA.2 surge is approaching: Here’s what you should know about this variant

Europe’s new surge is likely due to European leaders’ decisions to end all COVID-19 safety measures in their countries, combined with the rise of Omicron sublineage BA.2. As BA.2 prevalence increases here in the U.S.—and our leaders also end safety measures—we seem poised to follow in Europe’s footsteps once again. But a BA.2 surge is likely to look different from the intense Omicron surge that we experienced in December and January, in part because of leftover immunity from that Omicron surge.

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National numbers, February 20

New COVID-19 cases continue to drop in the U.S. as the country slowly comes down from its Omicron wave. This week, the country reported a total of 850,000 new cases, according to the CDC; it’s the first week under one million new cases have been reported since early December, though we are still seeing over 100,000 new cases a day.

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