As the newest variant of the coronavirus spreads quickly across the world, local health officials said while it’s important to be aware, the latest strain is not necessarily something to worry about here in the Cape Fear region.
For a large part of the population, the new omicron BA.2 variant won’t be a concern because so many people have immunity either naturally from the surge of the omicron BA.1 variant or from the many COVID-19 vaccines available.
“I would tell people to be aware, not to be afraid,” said New Hanover County Assistant Health Director Carla Turner.
While BA.2 has been tracked in North Carolina, it’s unclear if it’s reached the Wilmington-area, health officials say. The subvariant of omicron is now considered the dominant strain, accounting for more than half of new cases in the US over the last several days.
First detected in January, the subvariant is expected to cause mild symptoms in most people who get it, USA Today has reported. It is believed to be more transmissible than the original strain of omicron, according to the World Health Organization.
Vaccines are believed to prevent severe illness from BA.2, like they did with omicron BA.1. The WHO also anticipates that people who were infected during the recent surge of omicron BA.1 have a high enough level of natural immunity to be protected from the new variant.
This comes as communities across the country and world begin removing mask mandates and easing other health safety precautions. New Hanover County lifted its own mask mandate in November 2021, and the school district followed that decision in February.
Turner said with COVID-19 cases in New Hanover County remaining so low, many safety mandates, like masking, have been lifted. She encouraged residents to be responsible when it comes to deciding how to protect themselves from the virus.
“What I tell people is to think about the most vulnerable person in their life and do what they need to do to protect that person,” she said.
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People who are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 should stay home from work, school and other activities until they get results from a COVID test back, Turner said. Anyone who does test positive should contact their primary care provider to see what treatment options are available.
Residents 50 and older are now able to get a second booster shot through the county’s Pandemic Operations Center. Pfizer and Moderna both recently received approval for a second booster dose, and those who received a Johnson & Johnson vaccine or booster can receive a second booster from Moderna or Pfizer if they are four months out from their first booster dose.
Turner said while the virus isn’t going away, health officials are learning more about it and how to treat and prevent it. Still, she added, residents should continue to stay aware and informed on the virus as it evolves.
“We need to learn how to live with it, but we need to learn how to live with it responsibly,” she said.
Reporter Sydney Hoover can be reached at 910-343-2339 or [email protected]