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Health officials closely watching new COVID-19 strain

Aug 29, 2023 1:01 pm

Rachel Silberstein reports for the Times Union that New York health officials are on high alert over a new COVID-19 strain, BA.2.86, that was identified last week in the U.S., with a markedly different in structure than previous iterations of the omicron variant. Cases have been found in in Israel, Denmark, South Africa, and now Michigan and Virginia, but not yet in New York. Virologists say they are concerned about the new variant because it appears to be the most genetically different strain to descend from the original omicron variant that first emerged in November 2021. But they don't yet fully understand if it is more contagious or dangerous. New York Health Commissioner Dr. James McDonald said the department is tracking the “highly divergent” strain and “remains vigilant for changes to the virus that could further threaten our public health.” Syracuse University scientists are collecting and analyzing wastewater samples from across the state to detect the presence of COVID-19. Wadsworth Center Laboratory of Viral Disease Chief Dr. Kirsten St. George said in a statement, “As we look for this new strain, it is important to note that we do not yet know if it will cause more severe disease or if it will evade prior immunity. Scientists across the globe are working to answer those questions right now.” Currently in New York there are increases in COVID-19 hospital admissions and higher levels of COVID-19 detected in wastewater in many parts of the state. Mid-Hudson News reports that both Vassar Brothers Medical Center in Poughkeepsie and Putnam Hospital in Carmel this week are reinstating mandatory mask policies. Gov. Kathy Hochul also weighed in on the issue saying, “While New Yorkers might want to be done with COVID-19, COVID-19 isn’t done with us.... With the increase in hospitalizations and reported cases this summer, I strongly urge everyone to take appropriate precautions to protect themselves and their communities. To keep New Yorkers safe, my administration will continue to monitor this situation, share information on the new boosters as soon as it’s available, and continue to make N-95 masks available statewide.” Read more about this story in the Times Union.

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