Descendant Of Omicron Variant Detected in West Virginia

A computer rendering of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

West Virginia has identified its first two cases of a descendant of the omicron variant of the coronavirus, Gov. Jim Justice said Friday.

The variant, which scientists call BA.2, was detected in COVID-19 patients in Berkeley and Ohio counties, Justice said at a briefing on the virus.

Dr. Clay Marsh, the state’s coronavirus expert, said nearly half of U.S. states have seen a few cases of the new variant, which “might be more contagious but doesn’t appear to be as severe.”

Justice added that BA.2 “is not more alarming to us.”

Particular genetic traits in the latest version make it somewhat harder to detect. The mutant appears much more common in Asia and Europe.

Marsh said it appears that cases of the original omicron variant have peaked in West Virginia and are starting to recede.

But officials remain guarded because there are 1,038 people hospitalized for the virus, including 232 in intensive care units. Marsh said the number of deaths have not gone down and “that is a lagging part of this surge.

“We are still at risk for more people to die in the next several weeks,” he said.

Marsh and Justice urged residents to get vaccinated for the virus, including booster shots.