The BA.2 omicron subvariant, also known as "stealth omicron," is now the dominant COVID strain in the Midwest, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The shift comes as federal regulators authorize another COVID booster shot for certain groups.
Here's what you need to know about the coronavirus pandemic across Illinois today:
BA.2 ‘Stealth Omicron' Subvariant Now the Dominant COVID Strain in the Midwest: CDC
According to new estimates released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the BA.2 subvariant of COVID-19, otherwise known as “stealth omicron,” is now the dominant strain of the virus in the Midwest and in the United States.
The data, released Tuesday, reflects estimates of COVID cases diagnosed between March 19 and March 26, according to the CDC’s website.
Read more here.
FDA OKs Another Pfizer, Moderna COVID Booster for 50 and Up
U.S. regulators on Tuesday authorized another COVID-19 booster for people age 50 and older, a step to offer extra protection for the most vulnerable in case the coronavirus rebounds.
The Food and Drug Administration's decision opens a fourth dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines to those people at least four months after their previous booster.
Read more here.
Illinois COVID Regions: Metrics Show Slight Upticks in Suburban Chicago Communities
While most of the state of Illinois is seeing stability or even downward trends in COVID metrics, several Chicago-area communities are seeing slight upticks in positivity rates in recent days.
According to the latest data from the Illinois Department of Public Health, the highest positivity rate among the state’s 11 health care regions is in Region 8, comprised of Kane and DuPage counties.
Read more here.
Illinois to Stop COVID Testing at 10 State Sites
Citing a "sharp drop in the demand for COVID-19 testing services," Illinois' health department announced plans to stop operating such sites in the state at the end of the month.
According to health officials, the sites are running "less than 1 percent of the tests being conducted statewide."
"The number of daily tests conducted at these sites is on track to be the lowest on record with each site seeing fewer than 50 individuals per day, according to IDPH data G," the health department states. "Given the availability of free at-home COVID-19 tests from the federal government, the statewide network of federally qualified health centers and the extensive number of SHIELD saliva testing sites throughout Illinois, there are ample, convenient opportunities for Illinois residents to obtain access to a test if needed."
The department said the state is "currently strongly positioned to respond to a potential surge," however.
The 10 locations will stop operating for testing, vaccinations or both after March 31. Locations include: Aurora, Arlington Heights, South Holland, Fairview Heights, Peoria, Bloomington, Champaign, Harwood Heights, Rockford and Waukegan.
How Much More Transmissible is BA.2 Than Omicron? Here's What Doctors Say
As the BA.2 omicron subvariant spreads in parts of the U.S., some are wondering about its transmissibility, specifically if BA.2 is more contagious than the original omicron strain.
BA.2 has been steadily growing as a proportion of the COVID variants circulating in the U.S. since Feb. 5, when it represented about 1% of genetically sequenced virus samples, according to data published this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Though BA.2 is rising in the U.S., leading public health officials are not expecting another dramatic surge in cases, largely due to the level of immunity from vaccination and the fierce outbreak during the winter omicron wave.
Read more here.
FDA Expected to Authorize a Second COVID Booster Shot This Week
The Food and Drug Administration could authorize a second COVID-19 vaccine booster early this week, according to two people with knowledge of the plan.
The move comes amid early signs that the U.S. could soon experience another Covid wave as the omicron subvariant, known as BA.2, spreads throughout Europe and other parts of the world. Other countries, including the U.K., Chile, Israel and Sweden, already allow for a fourth vaccine for certain vulnerable populations.
Earlier this month, Moderna asked the FDA to authorize a fourth Covid shot for all adults, following Pfizer-BioNTech's request for a second booster for people 65 and older. Both companies said protection from the initial booster weakened after a few months.
Additional information is available here.
How Long Should You Quarantine With COVID? Here’s What the CDC Recommends
As coronavirus cases start to tick upward in some parts of the United States, residents are seeking out reminders of what to do in the event that they are exposed to someone who tests positive for COVID-19.
The BA.2 subvariant of omicron is driving upward trends in cases in numerous locations, including in the Midwest. According to the latest data from the CDC, the omicron variant is still the dominant strain of the virus in the U.S., with the BA.2 subvariant, otherwise known as “stealth omicron,” making up approximately 35% of cases in the last week.
In the Midwest, the BA.2 subvariant is estimated to be responsible for more than 30% of new COVID cases within the last week.
So what should you do if you are exposed to someone with COVID? It depends on whether or not you are up-to-date on your vaccinations. Here's what you need to know.
Chicago Travel Advisory: COVID Precautions Advised in 9% of US Under New Guidance
The Chicago Department of Public Health on Friday urged COVID-19 precautions in areas of the country considered medium or high risk by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as it unveiled new travel advisory recommendations to align with federal guidelines.
CDPH issued a news release, explaining it adjusted Chicago's travel advisory to match the CDC's county level guidance, which gives more weight to hospitalizations and hospital capacity, rather that strictly case numbers. Under the new protocols, counties are either considered low, medium or high risk for COVID transmission.
In medium risk areas, people should "consider wearing a mask in indoor public spaces," according to health officials. While in communities deemed high risk, people are advised to wear a mask in such settings.
Read more here.
What are the Symptoms of the Omicron Subvariant BA.2? Here's What Experts Say So Far
Months after the U.S. experienced a surge in cases of the omicron variant, focus has turned to different strain - BA.2, a subvariant of omicron, also referred to as "stealth omicron."
BA.2 captured attention as it spawned a rise in infections in Europe earlier this month, and in recent weeks, case numbers have risen in New York City, where BA.2 appears to be on track to taking over as the dominant strain.
As of March 19, the subvariant accounted for nearly 35% of COVID-19 cases in the U.S., a roughly 12% increase from the week prior, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In recent days, case numbers have also gone up in the Midwest.
According to the CDC, the BA.2 subvariant made up just over 30% of new COVID cases in a six-state area, including Illinois, over the week ending March 19.
The complete story can be found here.