June Leffler Published

New ‘Stealth’ COVID-19 Variant Detected in W.Va.

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

COVID-19 cases are climbing in some European countries due to a new “stealth” variant. The BA.2 variant, an offshoot of omicron, is already here in the U.S. and in West Virginia.

West Virginia labs have detected a dozen cases of BA.2. The variant is gaining traction in Northeastern states and now makes up a quarter of all new cases in the U.S. So far, scientists believe it won’t make people sicker, but it appears to spread faster.

State health officials can’t predict when and to what extent BA.2 will outpace the omicron variant and cause cases to rise. But throughout this pandemic, what happens in Europe eventually happens in the U.S.

“We tend to follow a couple of weeks after anything that we see in Europe,” State Health Officer Dr. Ayne Amjad said. “We’ll always be prepared with testing options, booster shots.”

Despite a 95 percent decrease in COVID-19 cases over the past seven weeks in West Virginia, at his Friday briefing Gov. Jim Justice said there’s no reason to believe the pandemic is coming to an end.

“Who really believes that this thing is completely over?” Justice said. “Well I don’t believe it.”

Justice said even if another COVID-19 surge occurs, he would be hard pressed to consider reinstating masking requirements.

“It would be really catastrophic and it would be, in my opinion, nearly impossible now for us to retract and go back into isolation and masks,” Justice said. “But we are good, reasonable people, and we’ll do whatever we got to do.”

Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting with support from Charleston Area Medical Center and Marshall Health.