Don’t get too lax with those masks — not that you ever should have, really. There’s a subvariant or sublineage of the omicron variant, which first surfaced in November, that is spreading after first appearing across the pond in December. Is it a cause for great concern? The experts say not necessarily — at least not based on what they know right now. Still, it’s too early to tell what will become of what they note as BA.2. Here’s what you should be aware of so far:
One of the earliest appearances of the BA.2 subvariant was on December 6 in the U.K. Since then, there have been around 426 cases in the country and more than 8,000 in over 40 countries, including parts of Europe (like Denmark, where it has grown especially fast) and Asia.
Initially Hard to Identify
The Daily Beast did a report in December following the initial emergence of BA.2 and experts said then it was harder to identify. It did not have the same special signal as BA.1 to say it’s Omicron. More than a month later, experts say PCR tests can still identify you as testing positive for COVID if you have the subvariant of the virus, but it may not tell you that it’s specifically BA.2, which would require genomic testing to fully identify.
The Investigation Begins
With the uptick in the appearance of this form of omicron, this week the World Health Organization recommended that officials independently investigate the characteristics of the BA.2, its immune escape properties and potential harm, and also compare it to the original BA.1 form of omicron.
While it has spread in parts of Asia and Europe, cases of the BA.2 have also popped up here in the U.S. That includes in states like California, Texas, Washington and New Mexico. According to the California Department of Public Health, 11 cases were found in the state as of Wednesday. Three were found, according to the NBC News affiliate in Austin, at the Houston Methodist Hospital this week.
Should You Worry?
You don’t need to panic presently, especially if you’re playing it safe. There is no evidence right now that proves BA.2 is more harmful than BA.1, and as experts have said, another variant, while exhausting, isn’t a cause to freak out, as viruses constantly mutate.
“Although the BA.2 lineage has recently increased in proportion in some countries, it remains a very low proportion of circulating viruses in the United States and globally,” Kristen Nordlund of the Centers for Disease Control told The Washington Post this week. “Currently, there are insufficient data to determine whether the BA.2 lineage is more transmissible or has a fitness advantage over the BA.1 lineage. CDC continues to monitor variants that are circulating both domestically and internationally.”
That being said, you should still take precautions. The recommendations are the same ones that have been urged in the past — get vaccinated and wear a mask.
“The vaccines are still providing good defense against severe disease, hospitalization and death,” pathologist Dr. Wesley Long of Houston Methodist in Texas shared with CBS News. “Even if you’ve had COVID-19 before — you’ve had a natural infection — the protection from the vaccine is still stronger, longer lasting and actually … does well for people who’ve been previously infected.”