The Delta variant is still the dominant strain of COVID-19 circulating in Maryland and across the country, but the new “mu” variant has made a small appearance here in recent weeks.
The World Health Organization identified the mu variant – which, like other COVID-19 variants, was named with a letter in the Greek alphabet – as a “variant of interest” on 30 August.
Although more research is still needed, the WHO reported last month that the mu variant has some properties that may make it more resistant to COVID-19 vaccines.
Is the mu variant in Maryland?
Yes, but only in very small numbers.
Since Sept. 15, Maryland has detected 56 cases of the mu variant through genetic sequencing, according to the State Department.
That’s a small fraction of the total new COVID-19 cases in Maryland. The Delta variant accounted for more than 97% of all COVID-19 cases sequenced in the past month, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
More:Wicomico County COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker: 46% of people are fully vaccinated
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Where does the mu variant come from?
The Mu variant was first identified in Colombia in January, according to the WHO. On August 30, the World Health Organization called it a “variant of interest.”
Worldwide, the mu variant accounts for less than 0.1% of the sequenced COVID-19 cases. However, it has “consistently increased” in incidence in Colombia and Ecuador, where it accounts for 39% and 13% of infections, according to the WHO.
The United States has reported a total of 2,803 identified cases of the mu variant according to GISAID, a database that tracks coronavirus.
In all, the United States reports about 150,000 new COVID-19 cases a day, the CDC reports.
Is the mu variant resistant to vaccines or more contagious?
The Mu variant has mutations that suggest it could be more resistant to vaccines, similar to the beta variant, which originates in South America, according to the WHO. But more research is needed, and little is known about how serious this variant can be.
Since it was first identified, there have been a few reports of outbreaks of the mu variant in South American countries and Europe, but the variant accounts for less than 0.1% of sequenced cases globally.
“More studies are needed to understand the phenotypic and clinical features of this variant,” the WHO said in its weekly epidemiological update.
What can I do?
Maryland is experiencing an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations driven by the delta variant, which is still the most prevalent strain of the virus. Both measurements are still during the worst days of the pandemic that came last winter.
The CDC reports that COVID-19 vaccines continue to reduce the risk of contracting the virus, including the delta variant.
Vaccines are also extremely effective in preventing hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19, and fully vaccinated people who experience “breakthrough” cases of the delta variant “appear to be contagious for a shorter period of time,” the CDC says.
In Maryland, more than 7.7 million vaccine doses have been administered, and nearly 83% of eligible adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
Gov. Larry Hogan recently approved a third dose of the vaccine for certain vulnerable populations, including immunocompromised and nursing home residents.
More:Maryland extends booster shots to nursing home residents, immunocompromised
Madeleine O’Neill covers Maryland State House and state affairs for the United States TODAY Network. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @maddioneill.