Researchers have discovered the first cases of a new omicron variant being monitored around the world and appearing to be more contagious than the version that swept through Maine and the rest of the country over the past three months.
However, based on experience from other parts of the world, the new version of the virus is not expected to drive a new rise in cases in Maine.
Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a Twitter post that two cases of the omicron BA.2 variant were discovered by Jackson Laboratory researchers who monitor for virus mutations in Maine.
“It is one of the ‘subgenera’ of the Omicron family of # COVID19 virus. Early data suggest that BA.2 is more contagious than the current #Omicron pedigree in the United States, BA.1,” he wrote. Shah.
While researchers are still studying the new variant, immunity – whether from previous infections or vaccinations – still appears to be effective protection against infection based on preliminary data.
“And although BA.2 sequences are rising relative to other omicron sublineages, there is a reported decline in overall cases globally,” Shah said.
“What does this mean for you? First, #vaccination and boosting is still one of the best strategies to stay safe. If you test positive, the same guidance applies: stay home and contact a health care provider about possible treatments.”
Meanwhile, wastewater test data released on Monday show a continued sharp decline in the presence of coronavirus causing COVID-19 in most cities and towns participating in the test, according to data released by the state.
Some cities are shows a steep drop in virus prevalence since the omicron wave hit in December. At the Portland Water District’s Westbrook plant, for example, virus prevalence has fallen by more than 98 percent since late December and early January, and 97 percent at the East End plant in Portland. Bangor, Augusta and Lewiston-Auburn have also experienced sharp declines since early February, when these cities and several others in Maine began testing wastewater for COVID-19.
Wastewater tests provide accurate data in real time, scientists say, and are not subject to problems that arise in counting cases, such as the proliferation of home tests, and in Maine’s cases, a significant backlog that skews the results. The backlog had at one point reached nearly 60,000 cases, and as Maine worked through the backlog, reported case numbers often reflected illnesses that occurred weeks or even months in advance. The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported last week that the backlog should have been eliminated by the end of last week.
The Maine CDC does not report new case counts on Monday because it does not process tests over the weekend, so the next release of case count data will be on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, hospital admissions remained unchanged on Monday with 168 patients admitted with COVID-19, the same as on Sunday. The number of COVID-19 patients in the intensive care unit decreased from 40 on Sunday to 39 on Monday.
Also, the US CDC changed its recommendations for indoor masks at the end of last week, and 70 percent of the country is now recommended to make indoor masking optional, also in schools. Much of Maine is still listed in the “high transmission” category, which maintains recommendations for indoor masking, but the formula still takes into account the number of cases. Maine’s case numbers have been artificially high since February 15, when the state goes through its backlog.
“On February 25, 2022, the U.S. CDC revised the way it measures the risk of COVID-19 proliferation in each county. The Maine CDC reviews how the change will affect Maine and will update this website once this review is complete. Deaths, Hospitalizations and wastewater screening data remain the best ways to measure the impact of COVID-19, “according to the Maine CDC Web site.
This story will be updated.