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BA.4, BA.5 COVID variants found in Twin Cities wastewater, spreading in several countries

Last week, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control recently designated the two as variants of concern, potentially fueling an increase in infections.

MINNEAPOLIS — South Africa is the latest country experiencing a surge of new COVID-19 cases driven by two omicron sub-variants, BA.4 and BA.5. 

Last week, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control recently designated the two as variants of concern — potentially fueling an increase in infections.

"There are really only sporadic cases in Europe, and it's taking over in South Africa and it's having a fifth wave of COVID," said Dr. Frank Rhame, with Allina Health.

And here in the U.S., evidence of the two variants have been found in several states.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, data from an April 29 sample showed evidence of BA.4 and BA.5 in Met Council wastewater samples.

Dr. Rhame, an infectious disease specialist with Allina Health, says there are still a lot of unknowns about the new variants.

"BA.4 and (BA.)5 are uncertain as far as severity," he said. "Is it more transmissible for people who had COVID-19 before, or is it more transmissible in a population of virgins, who had no COVID or vaccines before?" he said.

Met Council wastewater data from last week shows BA.2  is the dominant strain followed by another sub-variant — BA2.12.1.

RELATED: Daily updates: COVID-19 cases, deaths, hospitalizations in Minnesota

"Locally, we are seeing more cases of COVID-19, increase of number of cases, but just barely an increase in hospitalizations, not the onslaught in the ICU's yet," he said.

A spokesperson with MDH says the increase is another reminder that that the virus continues to circulate in the community.

And it's up to everyone to identify risk levels to stay safe.

A spokesperson with Allina Health says the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients has increased in the past month from the mid 90's to about 130, even as the number of those patients requiring ICU care has remained low and held steady. 

MDH issued a statement saying:

"Our recommendation remains to get the COVID-19 vaccine and boosters as soon as you are eligible. Staying up to date on vaccination provides Minnesotans with the best protection against severe illness. If you develop symptoms or have an exposure to someone with COVID-19, be sure to use one of the several testing resources now available to Minnesotans. If the test shows you are infected, talk with your health care provider or pharmacy as soon as possible about early treatments, especially if you are in a high-risk category. Staying home when you’re sick, washing your hands and following other public health guidelines are the keys to helping slow the spread of COVID-19."

RELATED: Pfizer's COVID-19 boosters for kids 5 and up get emergency use authorization from FDA

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