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New omicron variant has made its way to Arizona

KOLD News 6-6:30 p.m. recurring
Published: Mar. 16, 2022 at 7:46 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - A new omicron variant is being closely watched here and abroad after seemingly causing a spike in cases in several European countries including Germany, Switzerland and the UK.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, it’s also responsible for 25% of the new cases in the US, mostly in New York state and the Northeast.

According to T-Gen, which does sequencing for Pima County, it’s responsible for 10% of the new cases in Arizona. 19 were found in Pima County this morning.

But the question is, how much worry should there be over the new variant called BA.2, a subvariant of the original omicron.

The Pima County Health Department told us: “BA.2 is not a concern at this time, but the Pima County Health Department will continue to monitor the data to identify early trends that can help guide public health action.”

Dr. Joe Gerald, the Public Health Director at the University of Arizona said “for now, I think conditions will continue to improve over the next 2 - 4 weeks. So, no obvious dark clouds from what I can tell. Of course, things could change. In the moment though, not sure there is a clear signal of concern.”

But just the appearance of a new variant is something health officials will be watching closely because most people have taken off their masks, begun to attend functions and going out to dinner again.

“I know we all wish it were a thing of the past, we wish this was something for the history books, but it’s just not there yet,” said Aryn O’Connor, a toxicologist at Banner Health in Phoenix. “It’s been a long two years but I think we need to stay vigilant, that we’re not done with this for good.”

O’Connor says she’s doing what she can to increase the vaccination rate in Arizona, which hovers around 70%. She would like to see it well above 90%.

She said the number of COVID-19 cases in the Banner Health System is manageable now but there are many very tired doctors and nurses. She added most of their patients being treated for COVID-19 are unvaccinated.

She’s also watching the BA.2 variant closely because so little is known about it right now.

“We don’t know what it’s lethality is, we don’t know if it’s going to be weaker or more dangerous,” she said. “With each variant it’s a learn as you go.”

And with COVID-19, over the past years, its been unpredictable. There have been waves followed by lulls so making an accurate predication now is difficult at best but trends are still in play.

“We’ve now had enough ups and downs you know what’s coming right?” she said. “So we can see that we’re going to be facing an uptick in our numbers potentially in the weeks to come.”

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