Coronavirus Update: BA.5 named the variant that has likely infected President Biden and has U.S. cases up 19% in a two-week period

U.S. COVID cases and hospitalizations remain at the highest levels seen this summer so far, as the BA.5 omicron subvariant continues to spread.

BA.5 is understood to be the most transmissible variant so far and to have an ability to break through vaccination and cause reinfection. It’s also the strain that likely infected President Joe Biden, who tested positive last week and is reportedly still suffering from a sore throat and body aches, as the Associated Press reported.

Biden’s doctor, Dr. Kevin O’Connor, said in a weekend update on the president’s condition that his early symptoms of a runny nose and cough had become “less troublesome.”

Biden’s vital signs, such as blood pressure and respiratory rate, “remain entirely normal,” and his oxygen-saturation levels are “excellent” with “no shortness of breath at all,” the doctor wrote.

O’Connor said the results of the preliminary sequencing that indicated the BA.5 variant do not affect Biden’s treatment plan “in any way.”

Biden tested positive for the virus Thursday morning. He has been isolating in the White House residence since then. Administration officials have emphasized that his symptoms are mild because he has received four vaccine doses, and he started taking the Pfizer 

 antiviral drug Paxlovid after becoming infected.

Breaking: Senate Democrat Joe Manchin says he has tested positive for COVID-19

The news comes as the daily average for new U.S. cases stood at 127,756 on Sunday, according to a New York Times tracker, up 19% from two weeks ago. The true case count is likely higher, given the number of people who are testing at home, where the data are not being collected.

The daily average for hospitalizations rose to 43,102, up 15% in two weeks. The daily average for deaths is up 38% to 444. In California, cases are higher than they’ve been in six months, while in New York, there are more patients in hospitals than at the peak of last year’s delta wave of cases.

President Biden postponed a trip to Philadelphia Thursday after testing positive for Covid-19. The White House said the 79-year-old president has “mild symptoms” and will continue to “fully” carry out his duties while in isolation at the White House residence. Photo: Evan Vucci/Associated Press

Coronavirus Update: MarketWatch’s daily roundup has been curating and reporting all the latest developments every weekday since the coronavirus pandemic began

Other COVID-19 news you should know about:

• North Korean state media reports that claim so-called Koryo traditional medicine is playing a key role in the nation’s fight against COVID-19, a claim dismissed by a medical student who left for South Korea in 2018, the AP reported. As a medical student in North Korea, Lee Gwang-jin said he treated his fevers and other minor ailments with traditional herbal medicine, but that serious illness was a problem as hospitals in his rural hometown lacked ambulances, beds, even the electricity at times needed to treat critical or emergency patients. “North Korea is using Koryo medicine a lot (for COVID-19) … but it’s not a sure remedy,” said Lee.

North Korea is facing a surge in fever cases after reporting its first local Covid-19 infection in mid-May. WSJ examines Kim Jong Un’s strategy to battle the pandemic in the impoverished country, which has little testing capacity and an unvaccinated population. Photos: KCTV; STR/AFP

• Kentucky’s largest school district will require universal masking on school property as Jefferson County moves into the highest level of COVID-19 community spread, the AP reported separately. The change kicks in Monday and lasts until Jefferson County comes out of the red, media outlets reported. It comes a little more than two weeks before classes resume in Jefferson County Public Schools. Everyone, regardless of vaccination status, will be required to wear a mask on district property or on school buses.

• Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick tested positive for COVID on Saturday, his second time to suffer a bout of the virus, Click 2 reported. A statement from Patrick’s office said he is experiencing mild symptoms and is isolating at home. Patrick is vaccinated and boosted, the statement said.

• The World Health Organization said the expanding monkeypox outbreak in more than 70 countries is an “extraordinary” situation that now qualifies as a global emergency, a declaration Saturday that could spur further investment in treating the once-rare disease and worsen the scramble for scarce vaccines, the AP reported. The illness is fast becoming a major health issue and replacing COVID in headlines. So far, more than 16,000 cases of the painful illness have been reported in 74 countries since May.

Here’s what the numbers say

The global tally of confirmed cases of COVID-19 topped 570.2 million on Friday, while the death toll rose above 6.38 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.

The U.S. leads the world with 90.4 million cases and 1,026,959 fatalities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s tracker shows that 222.9 million people living in the U.S. are fully vaccinated, equal to 67.2% of the total population. But just 107.5 million have had a first booster, equal to 48.2% of the vaccinated population.

Just 19 million of the people 50 years old and over who are eligible for a second booster have had one, equal to 29.7% of those who had a first booster.

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