A second American has tested positive for the new severely mutated Covid variant BA.2.86, whose rapid transmission is causing concern around the world.
The positive case was identified in an asymptomatic patient in Virginia who was tested on August 10 after returning to the United States from Japan.
Scientists identified the case in a database containing test samples from travelers who entered the country – and experts believe the new strain is spreading to other states.
Researchers are concerned about the variant, also discovered in Michigan last week, because it descends from an “earlier branch” of the coronavirus and is therefore different from the variant that current vaccines are targeting.
The positive case was detected in an asymptomatic patient in Virginia who was tested on August 10 (pictured of former Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, left, watching the establishment of a Covid testing center in 2020)
Hospitalizations in the US have risen for the fifth straight week, but are also just under a third of the level at this time last year
The number of Covid deaths currently remains stable, having risen by four percent in a week. They’re hovering around record lows
dr Aaron Glatt, a paramedic at Mount Sinai in New York, said the fact that two cases had been confirmed in the US meant the virus was now “much more prevalent” in other parts of the country.
Only a fraction of positive swabs are tested for variants, meaning many cases with this strain are likely to go undiagnosed.
This case is the second to be discovered in the US, after an elderly patient with mild illness in Michigan was also diagnosed with the strain. They were not hospitalized.
Globally, seven cases have been detected in four countries so far – including Israel, Denmark and the United Kingdom.
Amid growing concerns about the variant, both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have said they are pursuing the mutant strain.
The case was discovered under the US Traveler Based Genomic Surveillance Program.
It involves analyzing positive samples from passengers tested for Covid to check for variants.
In addition, travelers are asked about their travel history and any symptoms.
The program operates at seven airports — including Dulles International Airport in Washington, DC — and the CDC says it can act as an “early warning system” for which variants are entering the United States.
The new variant has yet to be discovered in Japan, but official data from the country shows cases and hospitalizations are increasing.
Latest data shows there were 22,000 Covid patients in the country’s hospitals as of August 16, double the 10,000 from the week before.
However, that was still below the 35,000 reported at the same time last year.
Former FDA Director Dr. Scott Gottlieb warned this weekend he was “quite worried” about the new tribe.
He warned that the strain may be more transmissible than other Covid variants currently circulating.
However, there is no data to suggest that the likelihood of serious illness or death is greater than other variants. Previously, the virus has evolved to be more transmissible but less deadly.
Across the country, the latest official data shows hospital admissions are increasing, albeit from a record low.
In the week ended August 12, there were 12,613 admissions where the patient tested positive for Covid. This is the fifth straight week hospitalizations for the virus have risen, and a fifth more than the week before.
However, that was still almost a third of the level at the same time last year, when there were around 40,000 admissions each week.
The number of deaths remains unchanged. In the most recent week for which data is available, July 22, 479 were reported, compared with 484 in the previous seven-day period.
Lionsgate, a Hollywood studio, has instructed almost half of its employees to go back to wearing face masks. The arrangement is in effect at their Santa Monica building until further notice
Morris Brown College, a private liberal arts college in Atlanta, Georgia, has also ordered staff and students to resume wearing masks in hallways and classrooms.
A worker offers a face mask to a man at the Chinese Hospital in San Francisco in August 2021 during the pandemic
There is no official data on Covid cases as only around 40,000 tests are carried out per day.
But test positivity — the proportion of tests that came back positive — has doubled in the last month.
There are also concerns about another Covid variant – EG.5 – which is prevalent in the US and is estimated to be responsible for at least a fifth of all infections.
Scientists say this strain is more transmissible and could lead to an increase in certain cases. However, they warn that it could be overtaken by BA.X.
With more and more alarm bells ringing about Covid, there are now signs that some organizations are starting to bring back face masks.
Yesterday, Lionsgate — behind franchises Saw and The Hunger Games — announced that employees in its Santa Monica, California office are now required to wear face masks.
They said employees must also test themselves before going into the office and tell their managers if they have tested positive or have symptoms of the disease.
Lionsgate said the rules were in response to positive cases among staff.
They followed in the footsteps of Morris Brown College, a private liberal arts college in Atlanta, Georgia, which has also ordered staff and students to wear masks again in hallways and lecture rooms.
The college said the rules would remain in effect for two weeks and came into effect following “reports of positive cases among students”.
Students are also being told to maintain social distancing and all parties and large gatherings have been banned.
The number of Covid cases in Georgia has risen for three straight weeks, but overall the number of infections and hospital admissions remains low.