LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — New COVID-19 variants have the “potential to result in a new infection wave,” according to a new study.

Two variants — BA.4 and BA.5 — have been growing nationally and in Nevada, and they pose a different kind of threat because they are evading the human body’s defenses. Variant BA.5 now accounts for more than half of new COVID-19 cases in Nevada.

“We have to stop staying it’s reached its peak,” according to Dr. Mark Pandori, director of the Nevada State Public Health Laboratory. “It’s continuing to evolve.”

The Nevada State Public Health Laboratory is responsible for COVID-19 testing and whole genome sequencing of the COVID-19 virus in Nevada. (Brin Reynolds/UNR Med)

The study, produced by a team of 22 researchers from countries around the world, shows that the new variants are better at escaping the immune response generated when people are vaccinated, and previous infections provide less of a defense.

“It’s got quite an ability to infect, and a substantial ability to avoid immunity,” Pandori said. In other words, these variants show “a really strong ability to infect everyone,” he said.

The graph below shows how BA.5 (blue area that expands from left to right) and BA.4 (green area) have grown in Nevada since May. About 8% of cases in the state are BA.4, and about 55% are BA.5.

(Courtesy, Nevada State Public Health Laboratory)

And while sicknesses and hospitalizations aren’t growing at alarming rates, Pandori says there is still plenty of cause for concern. He said the virus has a profound ability to stay with us.

“We’re as armored as we’ve ever been against this virus,” he said, and yet it is still finding ways to hang around — and thrive.

Pandori said the current vaccines, which were designed to fight previous versions of the virus, might have to change. “We’re probably going to have to generate vaccines that are more focused on variants,” he said.

The Southern Nevada Health District’s most recent update on Wednesday shows that BA.5 is responsible for 21.4% of the cases in Clark County, up from 8.8% the previous week. The BA.4 and BA.5 variants were not even present when SNHD issued its report on June 15.

The county continues to be listed at “high” community level for COVID-19 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The high level is prompted by higher hospital admissions.

  • Case rate per 100,000 population: 275.86 (up from 274.1)
  • New COVID-19 admissions per 100,000 population: 16.4 (up from 16)
  • Percent of hospital beds used by COVID-19 patients: 6.9% (up from 6.1%)