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Expert discusses 'stealth' COVID variant in Minnesota

The most recent data shows that the BA.2 variant accounts for about 10% of the COVID cases reported in the first week of March.

MINNEAPOLIS — Two years after COVID-19 was first discovered in Minnesota, things are looking better. Our hospitals aren't jam packed, we just came out of the world of omicron and the majority of our state is vaccinated.

But COVID isn't gone.

In Europe, the coronavirus is spreading in the form of BA.2 or the "stealth" variant.

Why does that matter? I asked that question to Mayo Clinic's Dr. Bill Morice.

"Right now, I would say we are probably at a 'Watch' level," said Dr. Morice.

In the Twin Cities metro, our wastewater shows a low viral load, but 42% of that low load is the BA.2 variant. 

So it's here. But after what seems like the longest two years of our lifetimes, when do we need to worry about what's here and when do we just need to be aware of what's here?

"I think its good at this point for people to be aware of what is going on," said Dr. Morice. "I guess the bottom line is, we can't just put our head in the sand. We have to keep a vigilant watch of what is going on, but at same time, doing what we can to get back to normal life."

The prescription for us is to stay tuned to watching for spreads, but to also not take every spread as a cue to stop living.

RELATED: Yes, BA.2, or ‘stealth’ omicron, cases have been reported in the U.S.

For every person, that balance is different.

"There are so many things still changing, Jana, that make this so difficult to be definitive that makes it frustrating to people to hear which sound like the same messages, but unfortunately we are dealing with a lot of the same issues," said Dr. Morice. 

So for this BA-2 know, yes, its spreading in Europe. It's known to spread easier, too. But what isn't known is if its more severe. 

And one last thing, if you have been vaccinated or have had COVID, what threat does it pose to you?

"Certainly those things help protect against BA.2 infection and they help when you do get infected -- make it less severe," Dr. Morice said. "The big variable in the equation now is how durable is that immunity."

The Minnesota Department of Health says the state is seeing a slight increasing trend in the percentage of cases of the BA.2 variant. The most recent data shows that it accounts for about 10% of the COVID cases reported in the first week of March, which is the most recent data set they have for the variant.

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

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