We haven’t heard much about COVID-19 in recent months, but cases of the virus ticked higher over the summer, prompting pharmaceutical companies to alter their vaccines.
Doctors expect an increase in cases this fall, along with the arrival of the flu season, but they aren’t sure what variation of the virus to expect. It turns out there is a brand new variant that scientists say is very different from its predecessors.
The official name is BA.2.86 and it has only been found in a handful of patients. However, those people are all over the world, leading scientists to predict it will quickly spread.
So far, scientists don’t know much about BA.2.86, but what they do know is a cause for concern. The new variant has more than 30 mutations on the spike protein, making it easier to invade cells and cause infection. It might also run circles around the new booster that will roll out in September.
Katelyn Jetelina, a scientific adviser to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tells the Wall Street Journal that BA.2.86 is “drastically different” than the variants we’ve seen before. But “different” may not necessarily be bad because doctors aren’t sure whether symptoms will be worse than the cases of COVID experienced in the past.
Fortunately, current treatments for COVID-19 are expected to be just as effective on the new variant. Scientists also say current COVID-19 tests should effectively identify the disease.
Should the virus spread throughout the U.S., chances are mitigation efforts will be very different than they were during the pandemic. For one thing, a return to widespread mask mandates may be unlikely.
A study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in April suggests that N95 masks, recommended by health officials during the pandemic, may expose wearers to dangerous levels of toxic chemicals.
The study took place in South Korea and focused on two types of medical-grade masks, along with other cotton masks. The study found that the chemicals released by these masks had eight times the recommended safety limit of toxic compounds.
Despite that, the Daily Mail reports Rutgers University and a hospital in upstate New York recently reimposed mask mandates. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) told the newspaper that, despite reports circulating on social media, it has no plans to require masks in airports or aboard aircraft.