The New York State Department of Health today announced the emergence of two Omicron subvariants in New York State, BA.2.12 and BA.2.12.1. Both variants are sub-lineages of BA.2, which now accounts for 80.6% of COVID-19 infections in New York. The subvariants have been estimated to have a 23% – 27% growth advantage above the original BA.2 variant. Over the past few weeks, the Department has been investigating higher than average infection rates in Central New York. Based on newly available data in the public database, GISAID, as well as additional data submitted directly to the Wadsworth Center from sequencing laboratories in New York, State health officials have determined that these highly contagious new variants are likely contributing to the rising cases. 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%. The Department’s findings are the first reported instances of significant community spread due to the new subvariants in the United States. At this time, there is no evidence of increased disease severity by these subvariants, though the Department is closely monitoring for any changes.
“We are alerting the public to two Omicron subvariants, newly emerged and rapidly spreading in upstate New York, so New Yorkers can act swiftly,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett. “While these subvariants are new, the tools to combat them are not. These tools will work if we each use them: get fully vaccinated and boosted, test following exposure, symptoms, or travel, consider wearing a mask in public indoor spaces, and consult with your healthcare provider about treatment if you test positive. I thank the Department’s scientists for leading this effort and those contributing to this work throughout New York and around the world.”
The new subvariants were found through the robust surveillance infrastructure and testing network led by the Department’s Wadsworth Center in collaboration with laboratories statewide. In addition to sequencing COVID-19 virus samples selected throughout New York State, the Wadsworth Center monitors all data submitted to public databases by many other sequencing laboratories throughout New York and across the country. Results are uploaded into public databases, primarily GISAID, and studied for a more complete view of virus trends and the distribution of variants from these analyses summarized over time. To expand the State’s detection capabilities even further, the Department is accelerating early warning monitoring systems such as wastewater surveillance programming.
In light of today’s news and elevated cases statewide, State health officials urge New Yorkers to continue to take precautions to limit the spread of COVID-19. The Department recommends all New Yorkers:
- Get fully vaccinated and boosted when eligible.
- Consider wearing a mask in public indoor spaces, regardless of vaccination status.
- Test following exposure, symptoms, or travel.
- If COVID-positive, stay home and consult with a healthcare provider about treatments.
- Improve air ventilation or gather outdoors to reduce transmission and the risk of severe disease over the upcoming Easter and Passover holidays.
The New York State Department of Health reminds all New Yorkers that COVID-19 remains a public health risk to individuals of all ages. Short-term side effects of COVID-19 may include flu-like symptoms, fatigue, trouble breathing, fever or chills, muscle and body aches, and more. Severe symptoms can lead to serious illness and hospitalization. New Yorkers who are not vaccinated or up to date with vaccinations are at increased risk of developing severe disease.New Yorkers can schedule their free COVID-19 vaccine, booster, or additional dose by visiting the State’s Am I Eligible website or vaccines.gov to find a nearby location.
New Yorkers are encouraged to check COVID-19 case rates and new hospital admissions in their communities here. New Yorkers should stay updated on COVID-19 testing options here and treatment options here.
The Department is closely monitoring the situation and will continue to communicate openly with New Yorkers. More about the Department’s work to monitor, track, and sequence COVID-19 variants is here.