COVID-19 is a global pandemic, which means that the virus affects all parts of the world. Whatever happens in one country has implications for others, especially as travel restrictions relax amid lowering case numbers.
As we’ve seen across the years, it’s so easy for one person coming from overseas to arrive in the U.S. and spread COVID-19 to people they encounter. What that tells us is that it’s important to keep a close eye on COVID-19 cases around the world to get a better idea of how to combat its spread in the U.S.
Asia is the continent to watch out for, as countries like Hong Kong and Singapore experience a new surge. The Omicron BA.2 subvariant is becoming more dominant in these Asian regions, which may reveal future risks for the U.S.
Asian Countries Transitioning From Elimination to Mitigation Strategies
For the most part of the pandemic, countries such as Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, and Singapore were able to keep COVID-19 well-managed through an elimination strategy called “zero-COVID,” which focuses on reducing the possibility of new cases by implementing strict contact tracing, border control, mass testing, and quarantine mandates.
It seems that the zero-COVID strategy falls short amid the rise of the BA.2 subvariant, with COVID-19 cases once again surging in these Asian regions. According to public health professor Dr. Michael Baker, the more transmissible nature of BA.2 is piercing through the zero-COVID strategy and causing a new uproar of COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
In fact, Hong Kong has recently reported its current COVID-19 death rate over a seven-day period, which records as the highest in the world. With that, plans are underway to once again switch from an elimination mindset to mitigation.
U.S. Health Officials Expect an Increase in Cases But Not a Surge
With cases rising in the Asia-Pacific region, as well as some European countries like France, Germany, Netherlands, and the U.K., health officials are determining if the U.S. is next in line to experience another COVID-19 surge.
At the moment, the BA.2 variant accounts for 72% of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. Health authorities are not yet considering this to be alarming, given that weekly case counts are still relatively low compared to the record-breaking numbers during the Omicron surge.
The scientific community is optimistic that the BA.2 variant will not cause a surge as bad as what we experienced during the reign of its mother variant, Omicron. However, they do expect a modest uptick in cases.
Although little is known about the extent of a possible surge, scientists are watching out for signs. Among these include wastewater data, which can help identify the increase of viral RNA levels. According to the CDC’s wastewater data, viral RNA levels in sewage samples are still low enough to not drive a surge in cases.
What the U.S. Can Do to Prevent Another Surge
While the U.S.’ transition to endemicity seems to be undisturbed by the BA.2 surge, health officials are still recommending that citizens abide by health and safety measures. Time and time again, it has been proven that mask-wearing and other precautions work effectively to prevent infection.
Getting vaccinated is still the most effective means of reducing the risk of contracting the BA.2 variant and contributing to its spread. Only about 66.4% of U.S. residents are fully vaccinated, and the sooner we can get those numbers up, the lower the chances of a new COVID-19 surge.