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COVID-19 mu variant ‘undoubtedly’ here, Nebraska Medicine’s top infectious diseases doctor says

OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) – A new COVID-19 variant is making its way across the U.S., but Nebraska is the only state yet to report a case of the mu variant.

“Undoubtedly, we have this variant in Nebraska, even though it hasn’t been formally defined,” said Dr. Mark Rupp of Nebraska Medicine.

The mu variant was first identified in Columbia, and at this point, it’s unclear just how much of a threat the variant may become.

“It really has not been demonstrated whether this particular variant has the ability to be transmitted more easily from person to person,” said Dr. Rupp. “Or, whether the strain results in disease that is more severe, or escapes our immunological protections.”

In order to track the variant’s potential threat, Dr. Rupp says COVID-19 testing is key.

“Clearly, we deemphasized testing in the state. We’ve dismantled the main organization that was testing persons throughout the state,” said Dr. Rupp, referring to the closure of Test Nebraska sites, which offered free and easily accessible testing across the state. “It’s clearly hampering our ability to know what’s going on throughout the state.”

More testing means more opportunity to sequence samples and identify COVID-19 variants — and the kind of testing matters, Dr. Rupp said.

“A lot of the testing being done now is via rapid tests where we may not get our hands on the information or be able to get the specific viral strain.”

And while the mu variant is on the radar, the experts say delta remains the biggest threat, accounting for the vast majority of COVID cases.

“It clearly is not as successful as the delta variant has been. With delta every place it’s been introduced, it’s really taken off and become the predominant strain,” said Dr. Rupp, calling on people to get vaccinated and stay vigilant.

“We need to be emphasizing for people to be doing the right thing,” he said. “If you have symptoms, to get tested. If you’ve had an exposure, get tested.”

6 News asked the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services whether it’s testing for the mu variant as frequently as others and were told the state’s labs continually monitor for all new COVID-19 variants, which are reported on its website in a list of totals that is updated on Wednesdays.

The state did not report any cases of the mu variant this week, and Douglas County Health Department confirmed Thursday that no such cases had been reported locally.

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