COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths are currently lower than during past summer and winter waves. However, they have been steadily increasing for several weeks and are expected to continue rising. Health authorities are keeping a close eye on the spread of three new COVID-19 variants across the country.
In this post, we’ll answer some frequent questions, including:
- The specifics of the new COVID variants
- The most affected states
- The effectiveness of COVID tests and booster shots against the new variants
Let’s get started.
The New COVID Variants: EG.5, FL.1.5.1, and BA.2.8.6
COVID Cases have been steadily increasing since July 1 in the USA. According to the New York Times, in the last two weeks:
- Hospital admissions have increased by 5%
- COVID deaths have increased by 19%
Although these trends seem subtle, they have been a consistent pattern for the last three months, and they’re expected to accelerate. Experts attribute the rising infection rates to the new circulating variants: EG.5, FL.1.5.1, and BA.2.8.6.
All these variants are Omicron descendants, and currently:
- EG.5 (nicknamed ‘Eris’) accounts for 29.4% of COVID cases
- FL.1.5.1 (nicknamed ‘Fornax’) reports for 13.7% of COVID cases
- BA.2.8.6 (nicknamed ‘Pirola’) is not as widespread for now; however, experts are concerned about its potential impact.
FL.1.5.1 and EG.5 are both XBB variant descendants, and they share a mutation known as F456L that seems to make them more contagious than their siblings. In fact, FL1.5.1 was the fifth most prevalent variant at the beginning of August, only accounting for 7.1% of cases. Now it has almost doubled to 13.7% and is the second dominant variant after EG.5.
Meanwhile, BA.2.8.6 is a new “highly mutated variant.” Although few cases have been reported, this subvariant has been attracting experts’ attention because it has over 30 mutations in the spike protein, which are used by the virus to attach to and infect cells.
Infectious diseases specialist Scott Roberts MD says: “The other concern is that this strain has been picked up in at least six countries, and the cases are unrelated. This suggests some degree of transmission in the [international] community that we’re not detecting.”
As of this writing, BA.2.86 has been detected in:
- South Africa
So far, there is not enough data to draw any conclusions about BA.2.8.6. Experts believe that it is not likely to cause a massive outbreak of cases and fatalities. This is mainly due to the global immunity that has developed through vaccination and previous infections. However, it’s worth noting that BA.2.86 might have a higher potential to infect individuals who have had a previous COVID-19 infection.
The Uptick in COVID Cases: The Most Affected States
According to the New York Times, the states that have seen the greatest surge in cases in the last 14 days include:
- Nebraska, with a 70% increase
- North Dakota, with a 45% increase
- Wyoming, with a 39% increase
- Vermont, with a 38% increase
- Oregon, with a 36% increase
- Utah, with a 34% increase
- Michigan, with a 31% increase
- Colorado, with a 24% increase
- Ohio, with a 24% increase
- Washington, with a 23% increase
Do Boosters Work Against the New Variants?
The new booster vaccine was developed to combat XBB, another subvariant of the Omicron strain. Since EG.5 and FL.1.5.1 are both descendants of XBB, it’s expected to provide a substantial degree of protection. Meanwhile, the extent of its efficacy against BA.2.86 remains uncertain. But as it’s another Omicron subvariant, there is potential for it to provide a significant level of protection as well.
Dr. Roberts states, “Given the genetic similarities, there will still be a good degree of protection from the booster.”
The number of cases of COVID has steadily increased since the start of July. While the infection rates weren’t as high as those witnessed during previous summers, it remains crucial to stay vigilant this fall.
As a preventive measure, the CDC recommends staying current with booster shots and getting tested promptly if you experience any symptoms. This is especially important if you’re:
- An older individual
- Have a compromised immune system
- A healthcare worker
- In close contact with someone who has a weakened immune system
Do you think you may have COVID? No matter where you are, find COVID testing locations near you with our international directory.