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UW Virologist: ‘Every chance’ omicron sub-variant precipitates ‘endemic state’ of COVID

Jan 27, 2022, 5:35 AM | Updated: 6:00 am
omicron sub-variant...
People walk through Pike Place Market. (File photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)
(File photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

Dr. Keith Jerome, head of the virology department at the University of Washington, is cautiously optimistic that, despite a newly identified sub-variant of omicron (BA.2), COVID-19 is reaching an endemic state.

The term “endemic state” refers to enough people gaining protection from COVID through a combination of vaccination and natural immunity, resulting in fewer COVID-linked hospitalizations and deaths.

“There’s every chance that this is the pathway toward getting to what we call an endemic state, where we all kind of live with this because everybody’s had the vaccine or a couple of bouts of infection, and even the people who decided to not get the vaccine now have their immunity — if they survive the infection,” Jerome said on Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien.

“So where life gets a little bit back to normal, that’s certainly possible. But I do think that the people declaring that the end [of the pandemic] is nigh … might be a little premature.”

The Washington State Department of Health confirmed the presence of the sub-variant of omicron in the state on Jan. 25.

“BA.2 first started to get in substantial numbers in India and the Philippines,” Jerome continued. “Now, we’re seeing it grow in Europe — in places like Denmark ,the UK, and Germany. And we’ve seen it here. It seems to be growing.”

The virologist addressed what the UW knows about the sub-variant of omicron, and just how dangerous it might be if contracted.

“The general sense is that BA.2 is probably even a tad more infectious than BA.1 (omicron). It will probably become the predominant version of omicron,” he said. “There’s no evidence right now that it’s any more severe, so that’s good news. But this is a super infectious virus that’s going to be more infectious.”

He confirmed that modeling by UW Medicine predicts that the peak of COVID cases has likely passed in King County, although the virology rate is still “unprecedented,” and the potential for a subsequent COVID variant could bring case levels back up, were it to arise.

“The idea is that the omicron peak has probably passed in many parts of the country,” Jerome added. “I think we’re maybe seeing a turn here.”

“Our positivity rates in the UW Medicine virology department are still over 30%, which is unprecedented in any other way.”

“Some of the predictions say this is going to drop off, and we’re going to start to move toward this level of endemicity. I think that could certainly happen,” Dr. Jerome said. “I also know that biology is always hard to predict, and somewhere in the world maybe somebody with a smoldering, long-term infection is developing some new variant that we’re just not aware of yet. That’s the sort of thing that keeps me up awake at night. And that’s why we need to have as many people protected as we possibly can.”

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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UW Virologist: ‘Every chance’ omicron sub-variant precipitates ‘endemic state’ of COVID