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News

‘Stealth omicron’ on the rise in New England

COVID-19 testing
Joe Amon / Connecticut Public/NENC
/
A COVID-19 nasal swab is submerged in testing fluid.

The United States is close to reaching the devastating statistic of 1 million documented COVID-19 deaths, just as epidemiologists are keeping a close eye on a new subvariant called “stealth omicron.”

It’s known as “stealth” because BA.2’s genetic mutations make it harder to distinguish from the delta variant in PCR tests than the original omicron variant, according to the American Medical Association.

In New England, BA.2 accounts for 55% of all COVID-19 cases, compared to 35% of cases nationally, per the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But doctors say they are not overly concerned yet, even though the highly transmissible BA.2 is thought to be more contagious than previous variants.

“I do expect an increase in our cases, but I’m not that worried yet about a surge or a spike at this point,” said Dr. Ulysses Wu, chief epidemiologist and director of infectious diseases at Hartford HealthCare.

He added that BA.2 is clinically similar to the previous omicron BA.1 variant, and physicians know how to treat it.

Still, Wu and other experts are especially concerned about unvaccinated people.

“We know that the vaccines can really reduce the risk of severe disease, which includes hospitalization and death,” said Dr. Scott Roberts, associate director of infection prevention at Yale. “So when we’re seeing areas of low vaccine uptake, that really concerns me, especially at this time when people are removing masks, when people are returning to normal life.”

Statewide, 78% of the population is fully vaccinated, and 50.6% have had a booster shot.

Community groups across the state are working to increase vaccination rates. Black churches have hosted vaccine clinics, and in New Haven, churches have been showing videos on vaccine education.