A coronavirus subvariant experts believe is more contagious than the currently-dominant BA.2 strain has been detected in Minnesota.
The latest weekly data from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention shows BA.2.12.1 – the latest omicron variant taking hold across the country — accounted for nearly 37% of new cases nationwide last week.
So far, fewer than 20 cases of the BA.2.12.1 have been confirmed in Minnesota, a spokesperson with the Minnesota Department of Health told Bring Me The News on Tuesday.
"Nationally, surveillance reporting indicates that BA.2.12.1 does not seem to cause more severe disease than Omicron," the spokesperson wrote in an email. "However, we will need to see additional data before we can definitively say."
BA.2.12.1 is expected to soon outpace BA.2 across the country — it's already the dominate strain in some east coast states, including New York.
The CDC believes BA.2.12.1 is about 25% more transmissible than BA.2.
“We have a very, very contagious variant out there. It is going to be hard to ensure that no one gets COVID in America. That’s not even a policy goal," said Ashish Jha, the COVID-19 coordinator under President Biden, at a news conference Tuesday.
Still, experts believe people can protect themselves from severe illness by staying up to date with vaccine shots and booster doses.
“Additional evaluation is currently underway to understand the impact of BA.2.12.1 on vaccine effectiveness,” CDC Diretor Rochelle Walensky said last week. “But importantly, we continue to believe that those who are vaccinated and especially those who are boosted, continue to have strong protection against severe disease, even from BA.2.12.1.”
In an interview with CNN, Jha stated that "the key is to make sure that hospitalizations and deaths are not rising substantially," noting that he's confident America will get through this subvariant "without disruption."
During the wave that featured the delta and omicron BA.1 variants from August through February, Minnesota's hospitalizations peaked at 374 ICU patients and 1,382 non-ICU patients with COVID. Currently, there are 22 COVID patients in intensive care and 264 people with COVID admitted to general hospital rooms around the state.
But case levels are rising in Minnesota (more than 2,500 new cases were reported statewide on Wednesday). What remains to be seen is if case levels will spike even faster if BA.2.12.1 takes over in Minnesota.