Michigan made headlines this week after the nation’s first case of a mutating new coronavirus variant was detected in Washtenaw County.

With only seven detected cases of the highly mutated BA.2.86 variant, there are more questions than answers about the public health risk. Still, the World Health Organization has flagged it as a “variant under monitoring” due to its large number of mutations.

The coronavirus situation has been relatively quiet this summer with hospitalizations and deaths remaining low in Michigan and around the country. There have however been recent increases, which could be expected based on seasonal trends from the past four years.

Detection of the new variant also comes as federal officials are preparing to consider a new COVID booster shot this fall.

Whether you’ve been following the news, or need a catch-up, here’s what you should know:

What is BA.2.86?

BA.2.86 is the name of the latest observed lineage of the Omicron strain of SARS-CoV-2. It’s believed to be a descendent of BA.2, which became the dominant global strain of coronavirus in early 2022. Since then, several Omicron variant mutations have taken turns as the most common strain.

The BA.2.86 subvariant was first identified in Israel in late July. Since then, there have been six additional samples sequenced between Denmark, the United Kingdom, and the U.S., according to GISAID, a global virus tracker. The latest case was identified in Virginia.

With so few cases sequenced thus far, health officials don’t know if sickness from the latest variant is any different from prior strains, including its symptoms, transmissibility, and severity. It’s also not clear how well the existing vaccines and natural immunity will hold up against it.

There are another 29 different sub-lineage variations of Omicron circulating the country this summer. The EG.5 strain is the most common in the U.S., accounting for 20.6% of sequenced samples.

What’s the latest data on coronavirus in Michigan?

Coronavirus levels have been historically low throughout the summer, based on the state health department’s case and hospitalization data. So while there has been a recent uptick, rates remain low.

As of Monday, Aug. 21, there were 212 adult patients in Michigan hospitals with confirmed COVID-19. That’s even a significant improvement from 414 patients in mid-May when the public health emergency came to an end.

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