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NYS health officials are watching for a new COVID-19 virus mutation, circulating in parts of the US

Cases of the new Covid-19 variant have been detected in seven countries, including the United States.
Matt Rourke
Cases of the new Covid-19 variant have been detected in seven countries, including the United States.

New York state health officials are on the lookout for a new COVID-19 variant that may be able to evade prior immunity, according to Governor Kathy Hochul.

For the past couple of years, the dominant strain of the COVID-19 virus has been omicron, with numerous sub-variants.

The new variant, known as BA.2.86, is genetically different than omicron.

At this point, cases of BA.2.86 have been reported in the states of Ohio, Michigan and Virginia. It has also been reported in countries such as Israel, Denmark, South Africa and Switzerland, according to GISAID’s COVID-19 variant tracker.

The World Health Organization has classified it as a “variant under monitoring” but has not yet upgraded the status to a “variant of concern.”

The new variant has not yet surfaced in New York State, according to Dr. James McDonald, State Health Commissioner.

McDonald said the mutations are significant and could mean that the new version of the virus might be more severe than previous recent strains or could evade prior immunity. But he said scientists don’t know yet.

“This one’s different. And that's why we're paying attention to it. Because it's really different than the omicron sub-variant. So right now, we haven't seen it in New York, popping up in different parts of the planet, we're paying attention to it. And the big question is, is it going to be a problem or not, and that's we're going to try to find out."

The state health department’s Wadsworth laboratories are intensifying their analysis of wastewater across the state to try to detect any sign of the new variant. They are also collecting more samples of positive COVID tests conducted in health care settings to determine if BA.2.86 shows up.

COVID Concerns Already on the Rise in New York

The news comes as COVID-related hospitalizations are increasing, although they are at a much lower rate than the height of the omicron wave between November of 2021 and January of 2022.

It also comes as schools are reopening for the fall. McDonald and Governor Hochul recommended that schools review current federal Centers for Disease Control guidance and promote vaccinations and testing.

They said schools should also make sure classrooms are properly ventilated, and that teachers reinforce proper handwashing and other healthy practices.

But McDonald said there’s no cause for undue worry right now.

“If you do have signs and symptoms of COVID, get a test. If you're positive, talk to your health care provider about whether treatment is right for you,” McDonald said.

When he had COVID, McDonald said he felt better after a few days of rest. He said most people who come down with COVID in the next few weeks and months should have a similar outcome.

The newest variant raises the possibility that a new vaccine due out later in September, aimed at providing immunity from the most recent omicron sub-variants, might not be as effective against the new strain.

The new variant has even started to get attention on social media, with users nicknaming it "Pirola".

Health officials still recommend that people should get the new vaccine when it becomes available.

For more information on New York state’s response to COVID-19, along with COVID symptoms, testing and treatment in NYS, visit .