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Health, Science, Environment

More contagious omicron variant detected in Missouri, spreading in St. Louis County

Weekly testing through Missouri's Sewershed Surveillance Project has detected the BA.2 coronavirus subvariant in wastewater samples. University of Missouri researchers have monitored wastewater for traces of coronavirus genetic material since 2020.
University of Missouri
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Weekly testing through Missouri's Sewershed Surveillance Project has detected the BA.2 coronavirus subvariant in wastewater samples. University of Missouri researchers have monitored wastewater for traces of coronavirus genetic material since 2020.

A more contagious form of the omicron variant is now spreading in Missouri.

Weekly testing through Missouri’s Sewershed Surveillance Project has detected the BA.2 coronavirus subvariant in wastewater samples. Local officials have confirmed the subvariant is spreading in St. Louis County and warn of a possible rise in coronavirus cases in the next several weeks.

The subvariant is about 30% more transmissible than the original omicron variant and is fueling a surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in Europe.

Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate the subvariant is responsible for about one-third of all new cases in the U.S.

The original omicron variant remains dominant in Missouri, Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska. But in the Northeast, the subvariant accounts for more than half of COVID-19 cases.

The rise of the new, more contagious subvariant is “part of the nature of the pandemic,” said Dr. Clay Dunagan, co-leader of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force.

“Any virus that replicates better, transmits better than the previous one is going to win out and take over, and that’s what we’re going to see,” Dunagan said.

Missouri health officials have linked some cases of COVID-19 in St. Louis County to the BA.2 subvariant, County Executive Sam Page said during a press conference Wednesday. Page did not specify the number of cases or when the new subvariant was first detected in the county.

Despite its rapid spread across the U.S., the subvariant does not appear to cause more severe illness than other forms of the coronavirus.

“Early indicators show that it’s more transmissible than omicron, however, vaccination and prior infection with omicron do seem to be protective against this new subvariant,” Page said.

County health officials are monitoring the spread of the subvariant, but Page said they do not yet have plans to reinstate a mask mandate or other public health orders.

“For us to do that, we would have to see a significant surge that looks a lot like what we’ve seen in the past,” Page said. “Right now we don’t expect that, but we do expect cases to go up in the coming weeks.”

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