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Why are so many people getting Covid again? Everything you need to know at this point in the pandemic

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Many doctors are calling the surge in Covid cases that began in early June “the silent wave”. There are fewer outbreaks than in the previous ones, there is no exhaustive measurement of diagnoses since the Department of Health and communities abandoned it at the end of March, and it is not producing nearly as many serious illnesses as vaccines before it. But mild cases continue to rise, fueled by two sublineages of the omicron (BA.4 and BA.5) that have the ability to be transmitted even to people who have recently had the disease. They notice this in their counseling sessions and this is shown not only by a significant increase in hospital admissions but also by the statistics with which the pandemic is now being measured. These are the characteristics of this wave:

Which wave is the current one?

The last significant Covid wave was the sixth, peaking in January with the big explosion of omicron cases. After that, there was a dip and a rebound in April, which some saw as the seventh wave, and dip again in May. In early June, diagnoses began to grow again. From this point of view, this could be the eighth wave, but many doctors speak of the seventh without counting the previous one due to its small size or combining the two into one.

How are cases measured?

Since the end of March, health and communities have only recorded cases in the over-60s in the statistics, as no diagnostic tests are indicated for those who are healthy under this age. This prevents one from knowing if there is a higher incidence in other age groups. Since the approval of self-tests in pharmacies, the question has also arisen as to how many positive cases, including those over 60, are left out of the statistics because they are not reported.

How many cases are there really? Are they more than in other waves?

This Tuesday there were 841 cases per 100,000 people in 14 days (among those over 60), 86 more than last Friday and 188 more than a week ago. We are roughly at the level of May: above 800 for most of the month. The difference is that it was stuck at those numbers then, while now there is a clear and fast uptrend. They are also similar to the peaks measured in the waves before the omicron: 899 in the third wave and 700 in the fifth. But we’re still well below the peak of the sixth wave, when the cumulative incidence surpassed 3,000 cases.

Which communities are most affected?

Madrid is the country with the highest cumulative incidence among people over 60: 1,450 cases per 100,000 population. Another six are over a thousand: Balearic Islands, Canary Islands, Castile-La Mancha, Extremadura, Galicia and La Rioja. Andalusia reports by far the fewest cases: 271. All others are over 500.

What are the BA.4 and BA.5 sublines of the omicron?

Almost all instances of this wave are caused by the Omicron variant. But not for the first, which arrived in Spain late last year. It has evolved and two sub-lines are making their way: BA.4 and BA.5. Corresponding last health report, do not stop growing and already account for between 19.2% and 76.3% of infections, depending on the autonomous community. But it’s a report that’s usually a bit out of date with what’s happening at any given time, so it’s likely they’re even more established.

Are they more contagious?

These sublineages appear to be even more contagious than the original omicron, which was already much more transmissible than the delta, and in turn the delta than the previous ones. What makes these sublineages even more expansive is that they are capable of bypassing the immunity of antibodies produced by both natural infections and the vaccine, according to various laboratory experiments. Therefore, it is possible that a person had the disease this winter and will now have it again.

Are they more serious? Are hospital stays increasing sharply?

These sublines do not appear to be more serious than the previous ones, quite the opposite. In the absence of more detailed studies, the vaccine continues to show a high level of protection in preventing severe cases and deaths. However, as the number of infections increases, so does hospitalizations, and now it is doing so decisively: this Tuesday, 9,500 people were hospitalized with Covid (almost 1,200 more than four days ago), covering 7.8% of beds and 433 more in intensive care (73 more than on Friday and over 400 for the first time since Easter), 4.9% occupancy. While these numbers are still manageable in hospitals, if the trend continues to increase, the sacrifice of toilets and the closure of establishments for the holidays could make for a complicated summer in these centers.

What symptoms do they produce?

Further studies are also needed to detail the symptoms of these sublineages. Doctors see in consultations a large majority of mild conditions with the typical features of Covid: headache, sore throat, fatigue, fever, runny nose, cough …

How big will this wave get?

It is very difficult to predict how the Covid waves will behave. The closest example Spain has is Portugal, a nearby country with high vaccination rates, where the wave caused by these variants has been declining for more than a week. There, the incidence of 3,600 diagnoses per 100,000 inhabitants reached the highest level in the country. However, the pressure on hospitals has been a far cry from previous waves. According to the latest available data, the trend is downward: there are 1,743 patients, 85 of whom are in ICU, well below the number reached in the country’s first major wave, when there were more than 3,000 hospitalizations and half a thousand patients in ICU . This doesn’t mean the same will happen in Spain, but it is a precedent to consider.

Is the increase in infections to blame for the end of masks?

There is no direct temporal connection between the end of the mask requirement and the increase in cases. Transmission was already at very high levels indoors before removal and has not dropped below 400 cases per 100,000 population since last fall. It happens that face masks are not the only restriction that has been withdrawn: practically none remain in force, not even the isolation of positive cases. However, the masks reduce the likelihood of contagion and some communities, such as Catalonia, have asked older people to wear them indoors again (although they are still not mandatory).

Will another dose of the vaccine be needed to counter this surge?

Health plans to give those who already have it (53.5% of the population) a new booster dose of Covid only after the summer, although it encourages those over 18 who have not yet received it to put it on. It is very likely that by the fall, vaccines with higher potency against the new variants will be approved and revaccination (with a fourth dose) will begin for the population over 80 and those living in institutions. The Public Health Commission, the body that decides on dose administration, has not ruled on the population under that age, which will need to be investigated in due course.

Source elpais.com

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