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‘Stealth omicron’ variant confirmed in Douglas County

Published: Jan. 26, 2022 at 6:23 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - The Douglas County health department said Wednesday that it had confirmed two local cases of the BA.2 omicron subvariant, known by many as the “stealth” variant.

“The BA.2 variant was identified in December of 2021 during an outbreak in Denmark. To date, two cases of the BA.2 variant have been detected in Douglas County, and both had a history of international travel,” the health department said in a release Wednesday.

The first cases of the omicron variant in Nebraska were first confirmed among six people in the Nebraska Public Health Solutions District, based in Crete, in early December. A month later, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services told the state’s medical community that the omicron variant accounted for 52% of COVID-19 tests sequenced in the state in the two weeks prior.

Infectious Disease expert with Nebraska Medicine and UNMC says they’re still working on learning more about the variant.

“I’m relying on some of the data I’m seeing coming out of Denmark that says it may be somewhat more transmissible or contagious as BA.1, which is the main omicron strain, but it doesn’t appear to be anymore severe. That again is extremely preliminary but it’s something we need to keep an eye on,” he says.

“In populations like ours, where they’ve seen really a high wave of omicron BA.1, we won’t know if BA.2 is going to make any impact or not,” Rupp adds.

As of Tuesday, at least three other cases of what the U.K. has determined is the descendant of the omicron COVID-19 mutation had been reported in the U.S. — in patients at Houston Methodist Hospital in Texas, where researchers are studying samples of the virus, according to a report from The Washington Post. A case was also detected in Connecticut on Wednesday, according to the NBC affiliate in Hartford.

“It’s unfortunate this has been dubbed the ‘stealth’ variant,” Douglas County Health Director Dr. Lindsay Huse said in Wednesday’s COVID-19 update. “That’s just a bad nickname because it is something we can detect, and people need to know that the COVID-19 testing we are doing in Nebraska will find it.”

Dr. Rupp agreed Wednesday with Dr. Huse’s sentiment.

“I don’t want people to get the wrong idea that this stealth name implies that it can’t be detected, that again I think it’s not an appropriate name for this strain.”

Rupp also tells 6 News he remains ‘guardedly optimistic’ about Omaha reaching its peak of Omicron cases, as new infections continue to slowly dip.

The health department has reported 134,395 cases and 985 deaths since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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