Mecklenburg reports 2 cases of new omicron subvariant, but officials aren’t worried yet

·2 min read
COVID tester Felissa Hope prepares to gather a client’s sample at StarMed Healthcare on Tuckaseegee Road in Charlotte. (Jeff Siner/jsiner@charlotteobserver.com)

At least two cases of the new subvariant of omicron have been found in Mecklenburg County, local health officials say.

The omicron variant of COVID pushed county and state infections to new highs over the last month.

Now, health officials are identifying a subvariant of omicron in some Mecklenburg County cases. The subvariant — called BA.2 — is a mutation of the original omicron strain, called BA.1.

It’s likely Mecklenburg has hit a peak in the current surge of omicron infections, Mecklenburg County health director Dr. Raynard Washington said this week. Some key indicators of COVID spread are starting to plateau or decline, he added.

On Jan. 14, Mecklenburg set a new all-time record for COVID cases reported in a single day, with 4,376 cases reported — a huge increase from the record of 1,460 cases in a single day during the county’s January 2021 surge.

Since Jan. 14, daily infections have started to fall.

And the county’s daily positivity rate is falling too — although the rate is still much higher than the county’s goal of under 5%. The county recorded a testing positivity rate of 31.6% on Jan. 25.

The identification of the new subvariant of omicron in Mecklenburg County is not necessarily a cause for worry right now, Washington said.

“There is no indication that we should be concerned or expect another surge at this time,” Dr. Washington told the Observer in a statement.

And the World Health Organization has not classified the new subvariant as a variant of concern, he added.

‘Stealth omicron’

The omicron subvariant has been called “stealth omicron” in some media reports. The original strain of omicron had a unique profile on PCR tests that allowed for early identification of the specific variant, Washington told the Observer.

In previous cases, COVID tests have simply identified that patients were positive for COVID, but not the exact variant of the virus.

The new subvariant does not have that unique profile allowing for early strain identification — but PCR and antigen tests still effectively detect COVID in cases with the new subvariant.

People who contract BA.2 can experience similar symptoms associated with other variants, like cough, fatigue, congestion and sore throat. There is no evidence yet that shows BA.2 causes more severe illness than BA.1.

New COVID testing sites in Mecklenburg

The county opened three new COVID testing sites this week amid the current surge of cases.

In Charlotte at: Park Expo Center, 2500 E. Independence Blvd, Monday - Friday, 8 a.m. - 4 p.m.

In Cornelius at: First Baptist Church of Cornelius, 21007 Catawba Ave, Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.

In Huntersville at: R.C. Bradford Park, 17005 Davidson-Concord Rd, Monday - Friday, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.