New Covid subvariants dominate U.S. and Mass. infections

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Just as the holiday season begins, a Covid left hook could disrupt plans for a return to normal.
The CDC reports that new subvariants have come into power this week, at a time when America's collective defenses against infection have plummeted.
The CDC estimates that more than 57 percent of US Covid infections are now due to the "BQ" subvariants: BQ.1 and BQ.1.1. Together, these subvariants ousted BA5 from dominance - a spot it had held since last July. In New England, the numbers are similar, with nearly 56 percent of cases attributable to the BQ subvariants, an increase of nearly 50 percent in two weeks.
"These latest iterations of Covid that we're talking about are very, very transmissible," said Dr. Michael Hirsh told Boston 25 News last month.
Hirsh, a professor at UMass Chan Medical School and medical director for the City of Worcester, said it doesn't seem like the BQ subvariants "pack the punch" over some of their predecessors, like the Delta variant.
But that doesn't mean that BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 are necessarily benign. On the one hand, they should evade immunity. Hirsh is particularly concerned with infections in immunocompromised individuals or those with pre-existing medical conditions. "Unfortunately, if you're a higher-risk patient, you end up in an emergency room," he said.
One way to potentially avoid this fate is to have yourself buffed with the Bivalent Shot. Hirsh said while it's not specific to the BQ subvariants, it appears to offer protection against serious diseases.
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It might also be a good idea to consider proven protections, Hirsh suggested.
"Seems like a lot of people feel like I'm done with the pandemic," Hirsh said. "We're just saying it's not gone. Don't throw away your mask. I know people are tired of it after two and a half years, but I think we still have a little bit more to fight for.”
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