LITTLE ROCK, Ark – New data shows that two recently identified subvariants of the omicron strain of the COVID-19 virus are behind an increase in infection rates across the country, including in Arkansas.
The figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show the variants, BA.4 and BA.5, make up 18.5% and 56.6%, respectively, of the COVID-19 cases in the region including Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and New Mexico.
The BA.5 variant has shown significant growth, after barely registering June 1 with 9.6% of cases before moving to its now dominant position of 56.6%. The BA.4 variant shows roughly the same trajectory, although its trajectory from negligible levels began in May.
Arkansas is currently experiencing an increase in COVID-19 infections, with the latest active case count topping 15,000, the highest level the state has seen since mid-February.
May 24 was a national low point in COVID-19 cases, with the seven-day moving average hitting 26,052 cases. That was down from the mid-January peak with the seven-day moving average hit 807,034 cases.
Since May, infections have increased nationally and are now stable in the 100,000 to 110,000 range for the seven-day moving average through most of June and into July.
The formerly dominant BA.2 variant has been declining to its current 22.6% of cases since June 1 when it made up roughly 60% of COVID-19 cases, according to the CDC.
Researchers say both the BA.4 and BA.5 variants spread more easily than previous mutations, including infecting vaccinated people with breakthrough infections, although the impact tends to be less severe than previous variants.
While breakthrough infections are being reported, officials with the CDC have stated that “being up to date on recommended vaccines is effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalizations, and death.”
Monoclonal antibody treatments remain effective in treating BA.5 infection, according to CDC.
The CDC also recommends wearing a mask indoors when in public if the community level of infections is “high.” Pulaski County is currently ranked “high,” indicating indoor mask wear, as are all central Arkansas counties, including Saline, Lonoke and Pulaski.