Although daily life has begun to return to normal, new COVID-19 strains continue to emerge. Most recently, it has been BA.5, a subvariant of the Omicron variant that was prevalent last winter. BA.5 began infecting people in early July and already accounts for more than 50% of COVID-19 cases in the US. Not only is BA.5 the most transmissible variant to date, but it can also reinfect those who have already had COVID-19.
The Northern Mariana Islands have begun to grapple with this new strain as well. The Commonwealth Health Corporation identified BA.5 cases as early as June 28. The islands are doing poorly in their response when compared to the rest of the US. Their cases per 100,000 are over 1.5 times higher than the US average, and their deaths per 100,000 are twice as high as the US’. Most concerning is the 14-day change data. This measures the change in cases compared to the previous 14 days, so it is the most insightful statistic for a very new strain like BA.5. In this category, the Northern Mariana Islands have the highest 14-day increase out of any American state or territory. Their 14-day change of 138% is 17 times higher than the US average.
There is, however, a silver lining for the Northern Mariana Islands COVID-19 response. The commonwealth’s vaccination rate of 81% is one of the highest in the country. This is a good sign of a population willing to take proactive measures against COVID-19. Moreover, on June 19, the Northern Mariana Islands COVID task force moved the community to a vulnerability level green. Although this rating may be imperiled by the rapid advance of BA.5, it still indicates an overall positive outlook for the commonwealth. Commonwealth Health Corporation CEO Esther Muna, who worked closely with the government’s COVID task force, also said that the new strain was not too worrying. New strains of COVID will continue to emerge, but, a robust health framework, such as a high vaccination rate, masking, and testing, will prepare the commonwealth against any new variant.