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Surge of COVID Variant BA.2.86: New CDC Estimates Reveal Tripling Rates, Now Accounting for 8.8% of Cases 2024-04-17 06:16:01

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed on Monday that the BA.2.86 variant of COVID-19 is now responsible for nearly 1 in 10 new cases in the United States. This estimate represents a significant jump from two weeks ago when the prevalence of this highly mutated variant was only a third of its current rate. Among regions with sufficient data, the Northeast is particularly affected, with the New York and New Jersey area reporting a striking 13.1% of cases attributed to the BA.2.86 strain.

Monday's data marks a pivotal moment as BA.2.86 has now attained standalone recognition in the CDC's estimates, having previously been grouped with other BA.2 strains. This development underscores the notable surge in the prevalence of this variant, initially identified over the summer. The CDC clarified that earlier updates didn't separate BA.2.86 due to its rarity, but the current figures necessitate its individual listing.

Prior to this, health officials had primarily attributed the majority of new COVID-19 cases to the XBB variant and its closely related descendants, such as HV.1 and EG.5, which remain dominant nationally. The CDC's estimates, while indicating BA.2.86's growing impact, acknowledge a wide margin of error, suggesting that the variant could constitute anywhere between 4.8% and 15.2% of circulating SARS-CoV-2.

Despite this uncertainty, the latest estimate of 8.8% through November 25 represents a nearly threefold increase from November 11, highlighting the variant's rapid spread. The CDC, cautioning about the reliability of early projections, noted that the decrease in laboratory-based testing volume for SARS-CoV-2 over time might impact the accuracy of these estimates.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently elevated its classification of BA.2.86 and its descendants to a "variant of interest" following an uptick in reported cases. Although early data suggests that BA.2.86 does not induce more severe or distinct symptoms than previous strains, the WHO noted a significant rise in cases. The CDC, aligning with the WHO's assessment, currently views BA.2.86 as posing a "low" public health risk, emphasizing that, at present, the variant does not appear to be a driving force behind increased infections or hospitalizations in the United States.

As winter approaches, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is closely monitoring a resurgence in indicators tracking the spread of COVID-19 across the United States. Despite weeks of overall slowing or plateauing trends, the CDC has noted a recent uptick in figures, such as emergency department visits, signaling a renewed increase in COVID-19 activity nationwide.

This upturn is evident in virtually all regions of the country, with some of the most substantial increases occurring in the Midwest, encompassing states like Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin. In this region, trends are approaching levels not witnessed since early January.

Since August, the BA.2.86 variant, characterized by a broad array of mutations, had not managed to outpace the prevalence of the XBB variant and its descendants. Despite months of its spread resulting in only a limited share of cases globally, recent weeks have seen scientists examining a notable surge in a BA.2.86 descendant known as JN.1. This subvariant has swiftly become the fastest-growing globally, particularly in Europe.

French authorities, for instance, reported on November 13 that JN.1 was a significant driver of BA.2.86 infections in their country, constituting 10% of sequences. Preliminary investigations have not raised major concerns about JN.1 compared to other BA.2.86 infections, but more in-depth analyses are underway.

Recent data from the GISAID virus database indicates that up to a third of reported COVID-19 variants from labs in the U.S. are JN.1. According to CDC spokesperson Jasmine Reed, JN.1 is currently the most prevalent version of BA.2.86 in the U.S. The CDC anticipates that BA.2.86 and its offshoots, including JN.1, will continue to increase as a proportion of SARS-CoV-2 genomic sequences.

Despite the rise of JN.1, the CDC has expressed confidence that current COVID-19 tests and treatments remain effective against it. The agency notes that JN.1, closely related to BA.2.86 with a single change to its spike protein, appears to spread faster. However, this season's vaccines are expected to be efficacious against JN.1, similar to their estimated effectiveness against its BA.2.86 parent.

As the nation navigates these developments, CBS News digital reporter Alexander Tin provides comprehensive coverage of the Biden administration's public health agencies and their response to infectious disease outbreaks like COVID-19 from the Washington, D.C. bureau.

In conclusion, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is closely monitoring a concerning resurgence of COVID-19 indicators across the United States as winter approaches. After a period of slowing or flat trends, recent data reveals an increase in emergency department visits and COVID-19 cases nationwide, with even the typically stable Midwest experiencing notable spikes nearing levels not seen since early January.

While the BA.2.86 variant had struggled to gain prevalence over the XBB variant and its descendants since August, recent attention has turned to its descendant, JN.1. This subvariant has swiftly become the fastest-growing globally, particularly in Europe, with notable increases reported in France. Despite this, early investigations suggest that JN.1 does not currently raise major concerns compared to other BA.2.86 infections.

Data from the GISAID virus database indicates that up to a third of reported COVID-19 variants from labs in the U.S. are now identified as JN.1. The CDC anticipates a continued increase in the prevalence of BA.2.86 and its offshoots, including JN.1, in SARS-CoV-2 genomic sequences.

Despite the rise of JN.1, the CDC remains optimistic about the effectiveness of current COVID-19 tests and treatments against the variant. Additionally, this season's vaccines are expected to be effective against JN.1, similar to their estimated efficacy against its BA.2.86 parent.

As these developments unfold, CBS News continues to provide in-depth coverage through digital reporter Alexander Tin, who focuses on the Biden administration's public health agencies and their response to infectious disease outbreaks, including the ongoing challenges posed by COVID-19. The evolving situation underscores the importance of ongoing vigilance and research to navigate the complex landscape of emerging variants and their potential impact on public health.

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