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Where CSRA stands in COVID fight: Stealth variant explained

Published: Feb. 16, 2022 at 6:39 PM EST
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - With cases and hospitalizations down, doctors at Augusta University Health say they’re not worried about the omicron variant of coronavirus anymore.

Their focus is on what comes next.

Health officials are calling it cautious optimism. They’re glad cases are declining but say there’s still work to be done.

We spoke with the lab director at the Medical University of South Carolina, whose lab found two cases of the “stealth” mutation to omicron. But she says it’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s all about the mutations.

“The stealth variant, which is Ba2, does not have that same mutation as Ba1, and so it does not have the S gene drop out,” said Dr. Julie Hirschhorn, director of molecular pathology at MUSC.

So what does that all mean? When scientists were trying to determine if someone had omicron or delta, it was based on the test’s ability to pick up the S gene.

That’s how this new variant, Ba2, flew under the radar. Doctors initially saw the S gene and assumed it was delta.

Hirschhorn says omicron was a shock to her lab because it didn’t mutate from delta; it mutated from an earlier strain.

It doesn’t have as many mutations as delta, which could be good.

“What that means scientifically is still being explored, but it could be that the ability of omicron to mutate as rapidly as delta did might not be there,” she said.

So another wave of coronavirus infections could be far off.

“You know, I think we are on the way hopefully; things look like we’re on the way to maybe exiting pandemic and entering endemic,” said Hirschhorn.

With the number of infections and vaccinations, there’s a lot of immunity, which is why cases are declining.

“You know, maybe omicron was the step that got us there,” she said.

Future waves are approached with a different mentality. Hirschhorn says our cases are trending down in the right direction.

“That hopefully will be more of a flu season-like mentality,” she said.

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