Johnson County officials ‘continuing to watch’ BA.2, latest COVID-19 variant — Here is what we know

County COVID-19 testing

The BA.2 subvariant has been spreading rapidly in Europe and now accounts for 19% of new COVID-19 cases in Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and Nebraska, said Charles Hunt, Johnson County Department of Health and Environment deputy director. Above, drive-thru COVID-19 testing in Johnson County earlier this year. File photo.

Local health officials say they are monitoring the increasing spread of the latest COVID-19 variant, dubbed BA.2, in other countries around the world and in states in the U.S.

Here are some key points taken from the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment’s regular COVID-19 presentation to the Board of County Commissioners Thursday.

Why it matters: BA.2, an even more contagious form of the Omicron variant, is now the dominant COVID-19 subvariant globally, Charles Hunt, JCDHE’s deputy director, told the board.

Worldwide, Hunt said, COVID-19 cases have been rising for two consecutive weeks.

Although Johnson County’s numbers have been declining for the last eight weeks, some U.S. states are once again starting to see a rise in cases.

Regional cases: Hunt said while BA.2 comprises a little more than one-third of the COVID-19 cases nationally, the subvariant accounts for about 19% of COVID-19 cases in region seven — which includes Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and Nebraska.

Missouri’s Sewershed Surveillance Project has detected the BA.2 subvariant in wastewater samples. Additionally, Missouri health officials linked some COVID-19 cases in St. Louis County to BA.2, KCUR reports.

The CDC estimates that BA.2 is responsible for one-third of all new cases in the U.S.

Johnson County cases: At the same time, Johnson County’s COVID-19 data shows a sharp decline in new cases from this winter’s Omicron peak.

The county’s online COVID-19 dashboard is currently reporting a positivity rate of 2.2% over the past 7 days, down from higher than 31% in early January.

The county’s incidence rate of new cases currently stands at 28 per 100,000, down from more than 9,000 cases per 100,000 earlier this year.

Background: Last month, NPR reported BA.2 took over the spread of the original Omicron variant in South Africa.

Referred to sometimes as “stealth Omicron,” scientists are still learning more about the BA.2 subvariant.

According to the Associated Press, scientists say it is likely that it will cause an uptick in cases across the country over the next few weeks, AP News reports.

But there is no evidence that it causes a more severe illness than other variants.

Health officials and researchers have said vaccination and prior infection are so far proving effective against this new variant.

Key quote: “We are obviously continuing to watch what’s happening globally and nationally, and we’ll see what happens here in Kansas with the BA.2 variant,” Hunt said.