The omicron subvariant BA.2 which is rapidly taking over COVID infections in Asia and Europe is now in North Dakota.

State officials said they are monitoring the variant and urging the public to observe COVID protocols.

This variant was detected in western North Dakota and from samples collected mid-January, according to Kirby Kruger, the section chief of Disease Control and Pathology at the North Dakota Department of Health.

“We just detected our first case of BA.2., confirmed our first case of BA.2 this week in North Dakota,” said Kruger.

Researchers believe the new variant is more infectious but does not cause severe illness, particularly among people who are vaccinated.

“The information that’s emerging is that vaccinations are showing to be effective and helping to prevent this,” Kruger said.

By mid-January, COVID-19 cases in the state stood at over 12,000 but as of Tuesday, those cases were down by more than half.

In the Minot area, however, positivity rates remain high at about 20 percent for a 14-day average mainly driven by the omicron variant.

“We just know that there is a high percentage of people with omicron in our community and you can only go off of those that choose to be tested or want to be tested,” he said.

Testing in the area is now down to 160 tests from more than 300 daily.

On the other hand, vaccinations remain the highest among people 65 and older. Nearly 50 percent of children above age 5 have been vaccinated and 55 percent of those above twelve have also been inoculated.

“The most important message that we’re giving out right now is if you’re ill, it doesn’t matter what you’re ill with, stay home.

State officials said if you contract the new BA.2 variant a PCR or antigen test will still be able to detect it.

However, what they are still investigating is how effective the current treatment regime is against it. The public is therefore advised to continue to observe covid protocols, get tested and also get vaccinated.