Pharmacy & Healthcare

BA.5 variant pushes U.S. COVID cases to highest level since January

Walgreens testing data shows that a significant number of cases are linked to the contagious Omicron subvariant.
Elyse Russo, Walgreens Stories
COVID-19 is back in the headlines again, and with good reason. The U.S. is seeing yet another surge of cases.

“We are at a national positivity rate that is among the highest we’ve seen in this pandemic,” says Michael Taitel, Ph.D., senior director at the Walgreens’ Center of Health and Wellbeing Research.

According to the most recent testing data available from the Walgreens COVID-19 Index, which tracks current and emerging variants, the country’s current positivity rate is 37.1%. That rivals the positivity rate back in January 2022, when Omicron cases first exploded. The good news, Taitel says, is that so far there hasn’t been a corresponding uptick in COVID-19 hospitalizations or deaths.
Texas COVID-19 positivity trend graph
From July 13-19, 43% of all COVID-19 tests administered by Walgreens in Texas came back positive. Screenshot from Walgreens COVID-19 Index.
In some states, like Texas and Arizona, the COVID-19 test positivity rate is higher than it was in January 2022. In Texas, about 45% of the Walgreens-administered tests from the past week came back positive.
The reason for the current surge in cases? The very contagious variant BA.5. Nearly 65% of all of Walgreens test samples collected through July 10 were BA.5 and its sub-variants, the Walgreens COVID-19 Index shows. New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention puts the number of BA.5-linked cases even higher at 78%.

Walgreens’ percentage of BA.5 cases in the country could be higher, but Taitel says the index’s Omicron Proportion Tracker, which tracks COVID variants, needs more samples to analyze before it gets updated again. Until recently, Walgreens’ COVID-19 Index was solely powered by PCR tests conducted by Aegis Sciences Corporation. But with the increased availability of at-home COVID tests and changes in funding, among other things, the number of PCR tests administered has dropped significantly. 

COVID-19 Omicron Proportion Tracker mapNearly 65% of all of Walgreens test samples collected through July 10 were BA.5 and its sub-variants, the Walgreens COVID-19 Index shows

And more data is on the way. Starting this week, Taitel says results from rapid COVID-19 tests administered at Walgreens were included in certain sections of the index, like the “COVID-19 Positivity Tracker” map and the “Positivity Rate by Vaccination Status” graph. However, rapid tests do not provide variant data.

Looking at the “Positivity Rate by Vaccination Status” graph, Taitel makes another important observation. “The data tells me the country needs to do a better job vaccinating our children.” 

The test positivity rate among unvaccinated children ages 5 to 11 far outpaces the positivity rate for those with two or more doses.
The proportion of positive COVID-19 tests is highest among unvaccinated children ages 5 to 11, according to recent Walgreens COVID-19 Index data.

“And we know from other research that being vaccinated reduces the severity of COVID-19, so we’re leaving a portion of our population vulnerable,” Taitel says.

Keep an eye on the Walgreens COVID-19 Index for the latest updates on the pandemic, and turn to your neighborhood Walgreens for your COVID-19 testing and COVID-19 vaccination needs.

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