New COVID variant is now in 5 states; mask mandates return

It has been detected in Michigan, New York, Ohio, Texas and Virginia | PLUS: Are masks returning? Workplaces reinstate mandates amid COVID uptick

ABC NEWS – More health officials across the U.S. are reporting new cases of the COVID variant BA.2.86.

On Thursday, a genome sequencing team at Houston Methodist Hospital said it had identified the first case in Texas, a member of team wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

On the same day, Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff confirmed that one case has been detected in his state.

These states join Michigan, New York and Virginia, according to health officials and the open global genome sequencing database GISAID.

There have been hundreds of variants of the original SARS-CoV-2 virus that led to the COVID-19 pandemic in January 2020, but most eventually disappear.

“It is the policy of the LA Co. Dept. of Health to require masking in workplaces that have a cluster of cases.”

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Public health experts around the world are keeping track of BA.2.86 because of its high number of mutations.

“It is starting to spread here in the United States, as well as in other parts of the world. It’s clearly contagious, as are all of these subvariants of omicron,” Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told ABC News.

“As we all know, these COVID viruses are not localized just to one country or another. They don’t need a passport. They’re capable of spreading … and can spread rapidly around the world.”

BA.2.86 was the strain first detected in Denmark on July 24 of this year, then Israel, followed by Michigan in August. It has since been reported in Canada, England, France, Portugal and South Africa, according to GISAID.

It has more than 30 mutations to the spike protein — which the virus uses to attach to and infect cells — and is why Schaffner said he and other experts believe it may be contributing to the increase in COVID hospitalizations in the U.S.

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Data updated Monday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found hospitalizations rose 18.8% for the week ending Aug.19 … READ MORE. 

Are masks returning? Lionsgate, Atlanta HBCU reinstate mandates amid COVID uptick

By Mary Kekatos, August 24, 2023, 5:10 AM

ABC NEWS – As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations tick up in the United States, multiple institutions say they are reinstating mask mandates, at least temporarily.

Morris Brown College, a historically Black college and university in Atlanta, made the announcement in a letter written to faculty, staff and students by President Dr. Kevin James and posted on Facebook.

“Over the next 14 days…all students and employees are required to wear face masks (staff may remove in their offices while alone),” the letter read.

Meanwhile, Lionsgate, the entertainment company, said certain employees at headquarters are being required to wear masks again.

“The LA County Department of Public Health is requiring Lionsgate employees on the 3rd & 5th floors of our 2700 Colorado Avenue headquarters in Santa Monica to wear masks due to a cluster of COVID cases,” Peter Wilkes, chief communications officer for Lionsgate, told ABC News in an email. “It is the policy of the LA County Department of Health to require masking in workplaces that have a cluster of cases.”

Additionally, several hospitals across the U.S. are reintroducing mask mandates for staff, patients and visitors, according to reports … READ MORE. 

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