RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – A new omicron variant is on the rise. It comes at a time when more places are loosening pandemic restrictions like masking.

Right now, a variant of omicron is starting to see an increase in cases.

BA.2, sometimes referred to as “stealth omicron,” only makes up about 4 percent of national cases. The original omicron also started small too before quickly becoming the dominant strain.

The new “stealth omicron” is picking up speed but overall cases are still trending down.

“Even in places where they are seeing a bunch of it, it seems to be pretty short-lived and they’re still seeing downward trends in their own omicron surge,” said Dr. David Wohl, professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at UNC School of Medicine. He’s been closely watching the spread of BA.2 in Demark.

Courtesy: Duke University

Sequencing labs in North Carolina are slowly finding it in COVID samples here too.

“There’s some concerns about it, because some of our medicines may not work as well against it. And also, because it may even be more catchy than the already very catchy omicron,” Wohl explained.

In the southeast part of the U.S., the sub-variant made up:

  • 0.6 percent of cases the week of Feb. 2
  • 1.1 percent of cases the week of Feb. 12
  • 1.9 percent of cases the week of Feb. 19

Wohl said we should expect another increase, especially with mask mandates out the window.

“It could be really a confluence of bad ideas, of trying to take off masks and reduce restrictions, just when B.A.2 is trying to get a bit of a foothold,” said Wohl.

The good news is, if you were infected with omicron, your likelihood of catching B.A.2 is pretty low.

“I wouldn’t rely upon natural infection. if you’ve had COVID-19, get vaccinated and then you have superhuman powers, I think, against getting infected again,” said Wohl.

Taking off your mask leave vaccines as the last line of defense.

“I’d rather not stress test my vaccine right now,” said Wohl.

But if we remain careful, Wohl has hope for a brighter spring.

“I really am optimistic, but let’s not shortchange that or sabotage it,” said Wohl.

National trends

This sub-variant is taking over other parts of the country more quickly than the southeast.

In the northeast, B.A.2 accounts for almost 7 percent of new cases. It accounts for almost 6 percent of cases in the southwest.

It’s taking longer to spread in places like the midwest where it accounts for less than one percent of cases.