A masked woman walks by the end of an alley on Exchange Street in Portland on Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2021. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

AUGUSTA, Maine – An even more transmissible version of the highly contagious omicron subvariant is gaining a foothold in Maine, making up 12 percent of cases in April, according to the state’s latest COVID-19 variants report.

The emergence of the BA.2.12.1 strain, an offshoot of the so-called BA.2 “stealth variant,” in Maine comes as wastewater levels have shown a sharp rise in COVID-19 concentration in recent weeks, signaling greater transmission of the virus here. Hospitalizations have also ticked up, with 130 patients hospitalized with the virus as of Monday, up from just 93 a week ago.

Health officials in the Northeast have suggested that the even more contagious strain could be contributing to the recent rise of cases, particularly in New England, where it recently accounted for 20 percent of new cases, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates.

The new strain has accounted for 12.4 percent of COVID-19 cases in Maine that have undergone genomic sequencing through Jackson Laboratory, according to the latest report published by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday. That is up from 1 percent in March.

Health officials elsewhere have estimated that the new BA.2.12.1 strain is between 23 and 27 percent more transmissible than the BA.2 subvariant, which itself was more transmissible than the already highly contagious omicron, according to NBC News.

It is one of several omicron sub variants circulating in Maine. The BA.2.3 strain has accounted for 5 percent of COVID-19 cases that have undergone genomic testing here in April, while the original BA.2 strain has accounted for roughly half of new cases this month.