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As scientists monitor new omicron subvariant BA.2, here's what we know

COVID-19 rapid test
Posted at 3:48 PM, Jan 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-26 17:15:42-05

(WXYZ) — Cases of a new COVID-19 variant are rising. It’s called BA.2 and it’s a mutation of omicron.

Well, BA.2 is a descendent of omicron. We don’t know where it first originated, but it showed up in several different countries from Europe to South Asia. And since November 2021, over 15,000 genetic sequences of this variant have been uploaded to a global platform that tracks cases.

You can now find this BA.2 variant in 40 countries, including here in the U.S., where 96 cases of it have been sequenced. Now while it hasn’t gained a lot of ground here in the U.S., it has shown that it can spread. Cases have risen in countries like Denmark and the United Kingdom. In fact, BA.2 makes up roughly half the cases in Denmark, and officials in the UK have designated BA.2 as a “variant under investigation.”

So, it’s not surprising that the World Health Organization has asked scientists to study this new subvariant to see if it acts differently than omicron.

It has been called the stealth omicron variant. And here’s why. The original omicron has a specific genetic feature that is different from delta. However, the subvariant of omicron, BA.2, does not have this. So, if scientists use a specific PCR test, the BA.2 variant can look like it’s delta. So, the word “stealth” here does not mean that rapid testing or PCR tests can’t detect the coronavirus — they can. But the sample needs to undergo genetic sequencing technology in order to know if it’s actually BA.2.

I think it’s too early to say if health officials are concerned as we don't know a lot just yet. Scientists in Denmark are studying both the original omicron and this new variant. And so far, they see no differences when comparing hospitalization rates, which is good news. They're also looking at whether BA.2 can outsmart our vaccines and if someone who was first infected with omicron could get infected with BA.2 as well, or if there would be some cross-protection.

In my opinion, we should not panic. The vaccines work really well against the original omicron strain, which is what’s dominant here in the U.S. So, I will continue to urge everyone to get vaccinated and then boosted. And I'll update you all as we learn more about the new omicron variant.

Additional Coronavirus information and resources:

View a global coronavirus tracker with data from Johns Hopkins University.

See complete coverage on our Coronavirus Continuing Coverage page.