Maine health officials said a new variant of the coronavirus had arrived in Maine.
The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention said it detected a case of the variant designated BA.4, a subvariant of the omicron version of the virus that emerged earlier this year, in its recent sampling and testing of Mainers.
State officials have not released any further information about the test that revealed the new version of the coronavirus, such as: B. where in the state it was found or anything about the person who contracted it.
“It’s more transmissible than previous variants, so it’s not surprising that genomic testing would detect it in Maine,” said Dr. Nirav D. Shah, director of the CDC in Maine, in a statement.
Shah has previously said that he believes the COVID-19 pandemic has now entered a stage where the virus is “ebbing and flowing” as new variants emerge, spread and then fade.
As he has done as previous variants have surfaced in the state, Shah recommended Mainers keep up to date on vaccines and boosters and speak to a medical provider to get therapeutic treatments quickly if they test positive for COVID .
Meanwhile, the number of hospitalized patients with COVID-19 in Maine has remained stable for the past few days. As of Monday morning, 137 patients were hospitalized across the country, including 18 in intensive care and six on ventilators. That’s a slight increase from 135 patients on Sunday, but down from 169 on June 5.
The state does not update new cases on Mondays. Maine’s most recent seven-day average is 248 new cases per day, up from more than 800 new cases per day in early May.
BA.4 was first identified in South Africa, although that does not mean it evolved there. South Africa has a robust public health system and new variants are often identified there first.
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, scientists believe BA.4 and other Omicron variants are less severe than previous versions of the coronavirus. Although breakthrough infections can be expected in people who have been vaccinated or who have already had a version of the coronavirus, health authorities still recommend vaccination and booster shots as the best way to avoid contracting the virus.
Waves of variants are expected, scientists say, as the virus mutates and finds new ways to beat the body’s defenses and infect new hosts.
“Based on data from other countries, CDC predicts that BA.4 and BA.5 will continue to spread. As cases increase, hospitalizations will increase, but the case-to-hospital rate will likely be similar to other Omicron lines,” Jasmine Reed, a spokeswoman for the federal CDC, said in an email.
“We’ve seen wave after wave of new variants over the past year,” said Ryan Tewhey, assistant professor and complex disease expert at the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor.
Scientists are still learning about BA.4, Tewhey said, including how serious it could be, although early evidence suggests it’s about the same as previous offshoots of Omicron. That means it’s probably milder than previous versions of the coronavirus, but it can still be serious and life-threatening for people with underlying health problems, he said.
Omicron itself is more transmissible but slightly less virulent than previous versions of the virus, he said.
It’s also not clear how BA.4 got to Maine, Tewhey said, but it will likely follow a similar path to other variants that gained a foothold in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic and then spread east to west throughout spread land.
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