A subvariant of the COVID-19 omicron variant was detected in two cases in Washington state earlier this month.
BA.2 is a descendent of omicron, according to information from the World Health Organization.
Dr. Peter Rabinowitz, co-director of the University of Washington Alliance for Pandemic Preparedness and an infectious disease expert, said there are a number of sub-variants with COVID and it’s natural for any virus to mutate.
“The virus is continuing to evolve,” Rabinowitz said. “And we know it will as long as that continues to spread around the world, as long as there are lots of unvaccinated people. And it can continue moving into new populations. It's going to keep evolving as we try to catch up with it.”
Recent evidence shows BA.2, which differs in some mutations, including the spike protein, is increasing in "many countries."
The difference between BA.1 and BA.2 is greater than that of the original variant and Alpha variant, according to research done by Statens Serum Institute in Denmark. That can lead to different properties, including infectiousness and vaccine efficiency or severity, according to the research.
Early analysis from the institute in Denmark shows no difference in hospitalizations between BA.1 and BA.2.
Dr. Larry Corey, a Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center virologist, said he was not surprised the subvariant was discovered in Washington, and so far the variant seems to behave the same as its cousins.
"There were many, many variants of delta," Corey said. "We didn't see any differences between them as far as what occurred."
Division Chief of Medicine at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett Dr. George Diaz said there’s still little known about how it will affect local health care systems.
“We know very little at this point in terms of sort of outcomes and what will happen next. But at first glance, it appears it's not causing worse disease than the original omicron variant, which I think is probably good news,” Diaz said.
What is being referred to as BA.2 is not reported separately from other omicron cases by the Washington State Department of Health.
COVID cases have spiked recently as the omicron variant takes hold. Hospitalizations in King County alone increased by more than 700% over the past month, according to the county health department. The daily hospitalization rate went from just eight people a day before the omicron variant surge to 70 people a day.
The number of COVID-19 deaths has seen a dramatic rise since the start of the month. As of Monday, the previous two weeks saw an 80% increase in deaths compared to the two weeks prior, according to Public Health – Seattle & King County.
The steep rise in cases and hospitalizations prompted Gov. Jay Inslee to recently order health facilities to delay all non-emergent care, something virtually all health facilities were already doing.