As cases of the Omicron “stealth” variant, BA.2, rise in tandem with the continued laxation of mask mandates, health experts say COVID testing behaviors will not be able to efficiently track the newer variant.

Jennifer Surtees, an associate professor of biochemistry at the University of Buffalo, says the removal of mask mandates while cases remain elevated could allow the BA.2 Omicron “stealth” variant cases to continue rise without detection.

According to WHO, BA.2 is already the dominant lineage in 18 countries, and is It is considered more infectious than other contagious Omicron subvariants. And, like the original Omicron subvariant, it appears to decrease vaccine efficacy.

Sequencing for the BA.2 Omicron “stealth” variant is more involved compared to others from the virus. While, previous omicron lineages generated a response from PCR tests that helped researchers quickly identify it, the BA.2 doesn’t offer the same shortcut for sequencing.

Given how many people are relying on at-home COVID-19 tests, Surtees also has concerns about sequencing – or the analysis of coronavirus samples to determine the strain responsible for infection. Those tests do not get automatically reported to health departments and can’t be sequenced. So even though more cases might be getting sequenced, it’s not an unbiased look at what is spreading across the country, according to Surtees.

And a decrease in coronavirus cases is leading to a decrease in coronavirus testing, which is worrying experts.

“We are very concerned about a reduction in testing around the world,” Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19, said on Tuesday, adding that some of the reported declines in coronavirus cases could be due to a lack of adequate testing.

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