Local wastewater data indicate COVID-19 infections may have doubled in the last two weeks, as new variant “sublineages” are finding ever-new ways to evade the antibodies.

It’s getting more and more difficult to keep track of how many new different COVID-19 variants are popping up these days. We thought things were bad when the coronavirus started spawning new Greek alphabet letters like Delta and Omicron. Now the variants are splitting off into different and identifiable subvariants of Omicron like BA.2, and then from there “sublineages” like BA.2.12.1 and BA.2.13, like they were the names of the umpteenth different iOS updates that are being forced onto your phone every couple of weeks.  

The trouble with these subvariants and sublineages is that they are deviously goddamned good at outmaneuvering what antibodies and immunities we’ve built up, and in particular right now, reinfecting people who’ve already had COVID-19 (which at this point is most of us). KGO spoke with a few Bay Area scientists, and reports that these subvariants are reinfecting people who’ve already had COVID, even those who recently had the Omicron BA.1, and at some petty alarming numbers.

“It's acquiring these mutations which make it like a stealth virus,” life science research nonprofit Gladstone Institutes’ Dr. Warner C. Greene tells KGO. “We have our immune system at the ready trying to prevent these infections, but the virus is now learning how to elude the antibodies.”

The virus is doing this so effectively that SF’s COVID rates may have doubled in the last couple of weeks. Case counts are no longer as reliable, as people are testing positive with home tests now, and often not reporting their infections. But COVID rates in wastewater samples are reliable, and those who study them say we’re going in a bad direction.

"The concentrations look like they are doubling every two weeks," Professor Alexandria Boehm of Stanford's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering tells KGO. “Oceanside in San Francisco is always been sort of a centennial plant for us where things happen there first. You can see that the levels at Oceanside in the wastewater are currently twice what they were two weeks ago."

Boehm also adds “We have detected BA.4 or BA.5 in the water in San Jose," which means… now there is a BA.4 and BA.5? There is, which is why we’re back in the yellow tier, though for better or worse, with a winnowing number of public health restrictions in place.

Image: SF.Gov

The official case count numbers are again not reliable, but you see what is happening in the latest SF case count graph above, and hospitalizations are in the uptick as well. It’s hard to know whether we should be mildly worried or very worried about the current COVID state of affairs. But as always, the best course of action is the get that booster vaccine shot, or a second booster if you’re 50 or older.

Related: Are We Seeing a Fifth COVID Surge In SF Right Now? Probably. [SFist]

Image: Fusion Medical Animation via Unsplash