FLiRT Alert! New COVID Strains Fueling California Surge (Here’s What You Need to Know)

California, once a beacon of hope in the fight against COVID-19, is facing a concerning surge in cases. This rise is attributed, in part, to the emergence of new, highly transmissible variants with catchy names like BA.5 and BA.2.12.1, collectively referred to by public health officials as the “FLiRT” lineages. These variants are sounding alarm bells, urging Californians to remain vigilant and take steps to protect themselves as the pandemic continues to evolve.

Understanding the FLiRT: More Transmissible, Vaccine Evasion Concerns

The FLiRT variants, short for “Multiple Lineages Descending from B.A.5,” are descendants of the highly transmissible Omicron variant (Omicron BA.1) that dominated the world in late 2021 and early 2022 . These new lineages, particularly BA.5 and BA.2.12.1, possess several concerning characteristics:

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  • Increased Transmissibility: FLiRT variants are significantly more transmissible than previous strains, including the earlier Omicron variants. This means the virus can spread more easily from person to person, even among those who are vaccinated and boosted.
  • Potential for Immune Evasion: There are growing concerns about the FLiRT variants’ ability to evade immune protection provided by vaccination or prior infection. While vaccines remain highly effective in preventing severe illness, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19, FLiRT’s ability to partially bypass this protection may be contributing to the rise in cases.

These characteristics of the FLiRT variants are driving the current surge in California, particularly in areas with lower vaccination rates. As the virus spreads more easily and can potentially infect even vaccinated individuals, caseloads are rising, placing a strain on healthcare systems.

The Impact of the Surge: Cases Rise, Hospitalizations on Watch

The FLiRT-fueled surge is evident in California’s rising case numbers. Here’s a glimpse of the impact:

  • Increased Caseloads: California has seen a significant rise in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks. The daily case rate has climbed steadily, with some areas experiencing positivity rates exceeding 10%.
  • Hospitalization Trends: While hospitalizations haven’t surged to the alarming levels witnessed during previous waves, there has been a concerning uptick, particularly among vulnerable populations or those who are unvaccinated.
  • Strain on Healthcare Systems: The rise in cases, coupled with ongoing staffing shortages, is placing additional strain on hospitals and healthcare workers.

Public health officials are closely monitoring the situation and urging Californians to take precautions to prevent further spread and protect themselves from severe illness.

Staying Safe in the Face of FLiRT: Boosters, Masking, and Common-Sense Measures

With the FLiRT variants circulating and case numbers rising, here are some key steps Californians can take to stay safe:

  • Get Boosted: Vaccines remain the most effective weapon against COVID-19. Staying up-to-date with booster shots is crucial for optimal protection, especially for those most vulnerable to serious illness.
  • Consider Masking Indoors: While mask mandates are not currently in place in most areas of California, wearing a well-fitting mask in crowded indoor settings or when interacting with individuals at high risk can significantly reduce the risk of transmission.
  • Maintain Good Hygiene: Frequent handwashing and practicing respiratory etiquette (coughing or sneezing into elbows) remain essential measures to curb the spread of the virus.
  • Stay Home When Sick: If you are experiencing any COVID-like symptoms, isolate yourself and get tested to prevent unknowingly spreading the virus to others.

Following these common-sense measures can significantly reduce the risk of infection and help slow the spread of the FLiRT variants. Public health officials are also urging Californians to stay informed about the latest guidance and recommendations from trusted sources like the California Department of Public Health (CDPH).


The current COVID surge in California serves as a reminder that the pandemic is not over. While the situation is concerning, there is no need for panic. By working together and adopting a cautious approach, Californians can navigate this surge effectively.