A new COVID-19 strain is throwing a monkey wrench into the end of the summer and start of school. The most recent variant, dubbed EG.5, has led to an uptick in COVID-19 cases across New York state, and health experts are investigating.
“Viruses mutate. That’s what they do," said Stephen Thomas, director of the Institute for Global Health at SUNY Upstate Medical University.
According to estimates from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, EG.5 was responsible for a little more than 20% of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. at the end of the third week of August, more than any other strain.
“This new variant, this new EG.5 variant, which is highly transmissable, is in Central New York. It's in upstate New York. It's the predominant variant around the country right now," said Thomas.
According to Yale Medicine, the EG.5 variant has a new mutation in its spike protein that can potentially evade some immunity people have gotten from having COVID-19 or a vaccination. The World Health Organization has classified it as a “variant of interest," meaning countries should monitor it more closely than others because of mutations that could make it more contagious or severe.
“The number of people being admitted to the hospital for COVID illness is increasing," Thomas said. "Two, the number of staff that are out of work because of COVID illness is increasing."
According to New York state’s COVID-19 hospitalization summary, there have been an increase of 282 COVID-related hospitalizations from the beginning of August to Aug. 18.
But is this strain more severe than others?
“We really do not have an answer, definitive answer, to that right now," Thomas said.
A vaccine is coming later this year that can attack the variant.
“The new vaccine suggested by the CDC, which will be available some time at the end of September, that will be pretty close, or the closest vaccine possible, to what’s currently circulating," said Richard Ellison, a professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School.