Surging COVID-19 infections in Central New York and the Finger Lakes region are connected to two newly emerged omicron subvariants, state health officials said Wednesday.
The new subvariants are the most contagious yet of the omicron strain, prompting the public health alert focused on the upstate New York corridor facing some of the worst outbreaks in the country.
The new subvariants are sub-lineages of the BA.2 version of omicron, which has been fueling a recent uptick in cases over the past month. The new variants are called BA.2.12 and BA.2.12.1, the alert noted.
The new subvariants are estimated to be 23% to 27% more contagious than the BA.2 version, which already beat out the original omicron strain that ignited the record-setting winter surge.
“We are alerting the public to two omicron subvariants, newly emerged and rapidly spreading in upstate New York, so New Yorkers can act swiftly,” New York Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said in a statement.
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At this time, there is no evidence of increased disease severity by these subvariants, though state health officials are closely monitoring for any changes, Bassett added.
On April 1, state officials renewed indoor mask wearing recommendations for five counties in Central New York, citing the heightened COVID-19 threat in those communities.
On Tuesday, Bassett urged New Yorkers in Central New York, the Finger Lakes and other communities statewide to consider wearing masks in public indoor spaces.
“While these subvariants are new, the tools to combat them are not,” she said.
Those tools, Bassett said, include getting fully vaccinated and boosted, getting tested following exposure, symptoms, or travel. She added people should “consider wearing a mask in public indoor spaces, and consult with your healthcare provider about treatment if you test positive.”
How NY found new omicron subvariants
Over the past few weeks, the state Health Department has been investigating higher than average infection rates in Central New York. That work led the agency to uncover the rapid rise of the new subvariants, state officials said.
For the month of March, BA.2.12 and BA.2.12.1 rose to collectively comprise more than 70% prevalence in Central New York and more than 20% prevalence in the neighboring Finger Lakes region. Data for April indicate that levels in Central New York are now above 90%.
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The findings are the first reported instances of significant community spread due to the new subvariants in the United States.
State health officials discovered the new subvariants through the surveillance infrastructure and testing network led by the state-run Wadsworth Center in Albany, which partners with other labs statewide.
The Wadsworth Center sequences COVID-19 virus samples from throughout the state, while monitoring data submitted by other labs in New York and nationally.
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David Robinson is the state health care reporter for the USA TODAY Network New York. He can be reached email@example.com and followed on Twitter:@DrobinsonLoHud