COVID-19 cases have crept up again in the Lehigh Valley, and this time the cause is variant BA.2.12.1.

dr Alex Benjamin, chief infection control and prevention officer for the Lehigh Valley Health Network, said BA.2.12.1 had only been in the region for weeks, but it didn’t take long for it to take hold.

The new variant is a subvariant of the BA.2 variant, which is itself a subvariant of the Omicron strain of the coronavirus. BA.2.12.1 continues the trend of the previous variants and is the most contagious yet.

Omicron and its variants are known to be less likely to lead to serious illness and BA.2.12.1 continues this trend with some of the most common early symptoms such as a scratchy or sore throat, sneezing or runny nose easily mistaken for allergies can become.

Benjamin said that’s why it’s important that people don’t dismiss what might otherwise appear like allergies or a sinus infection, even though the Lehigh Valley is one of the worst places to live in the US for allergy sufferers and people with asthma. according to the annual Asthma Capitals report published by the nonprofit Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

“I think it was really confusing because the air quality was so bad,” Benjamin said. “Many people attributed their symptoms to allergies and some people didn’t think to test them.”

BA.2.12.1 now accounts for the majority of cases at national and local level, around 60%, and is causing a new spike in cases. The Pennsylvania Department of Health, which had begun updating its COVID-19 dashboard weekly while cases were low, recently resumed updating it daily. New York City is well into the fifth wave of the pandemic and officials have put the city on top COVID-19 alert, according to the New York Times.

1,739 cases have been reported in Lehigh and Northampton counties over the past seven days. During that period, there were an average of 248 cases per day, down 6.3% from the previous week but up 130% from there.

Hospitalizations have also increased compared to about a month ago. Lehigh Valley’s total as of Thursday was 111 COVID-19 positive patients, with all seven patients on ventilators in the ICU. Local hospital admissions are up 7.8% since last week and up 145% from 30 days ago. The Lehigh Valley Health Network had hospitalized 97 COVID-19 patients across the network on Monday when hospital admissions were in the low 20s in early April.

Robert Shipp, vice president of population health and clinical affairs at the Hospital & Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania and a practicing nurse practitioner, said somewhat more positively that hospitals are seeing proportionately fewer people requiring critical care after being hospitalized for COVID-19.

“This is a good sign, but there are still twice as many people in the hospital and in the ICU as there were a month ago,” Shipp said.

He said other good news is that schools will be closing soon, creating less opportunity for the disease to spread and warmer weather ahead.

Unlike the last wave of COVID-19, at-home tests aren’t hard to find, and to get a lab test you don’t have to wait in long lines or end up on a waiting list. President Joe Biden’s administration announced last week that it would allow Americans to order a third round of free COVID-19 tests through the US Postal Service.

And luckily, there’s no evidence that this variant tends to evade testing. But Benjamin said it’s possible to test too early when infected with COVID-19, which would result in a false negative. He said that in the earliest stages of infection, there may not be a large enough concentration of virus throughout the body for tests to detect anything.

“CDC policy is to test as soon as you find out you’re exposed, and for some people they find out so quickly that they may be testing before the test can catch a virus in your system,” Benjamin said. “It can take a few days before you have enough virus in your system to test positive.”

He said this is why some people test negative early, only to get sick a few days later, test themselves again and find out they did indeed have COVID-19.

However, testing is still important, especially since infections with BA.2.12.1 are more likely to result in symptoms similar to seasonal allergies or the common cold.

Benjamin said if the test results are negative, he suggests treating those results with great suspicion. The CDC recommends retesting five days after the initial test, but Benjamin said if even mild symptoms develop before then, it might be a good idea to test sooner.

Aside from getting tested if you don’t feel well or have reason to believe you’ve been exposed to COVID-19, experts are also suggesting people take personal steps to reduce their risk of contracting COVID-19. 19 to decrease. This includes catching up on gunshots and masking yourself indoors.

Although a vaccine has not yet been approved for the youngest children, booster shots were approved for use in children ages 5 to 11 by the US Food and Drug Administration as of last week.

Morning Call reporter Leif Greiss can be reached at 610-679-4028 or [email protected].

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