COVID-19’s Seasonal Return

As summer winds down in Michigan, the state is once again preparing for the arrival of another season – not the vibrant hues of autumn, but the resurfacing of COVID-19. As we head into the fourth autumn of this pandemic, the virus responsible for COVID-19, linked to nearly 39,000 deaths in Michigan, appears to have fallen into a seasonal rhythm, with recent weeks witnessing a slight increase in cases and hospitalizations, mirroring a national trend.

This resurgence is expected to intensify as elementary classrooms and college campuses fill up, and colder weather compels social gatherings to move indoors. The looming question remains: Is COVID still circulating? The short answer is an unequivocal yes, even if some may have momentarily relegated it to the back of their minds. But is it the same COVID as in years past? The answer to that question is a bit more complex.

The currently dominant variants, including EG.5, which replaced XBB.1.5 as the predominant strain, are descendants of the omicron variant that led to a deadly surge in 2022. However, in mid-August, Michigan became the first U.S. state to report a potentially concerning new variant, BA.2.86. This variant, which has experts on edge, boasts significant genetic differences in its spike protein – the virus’s gateway to human cells – when compared to previous versions of the virus.

The implications are troubling as this could potentially allow the variant to evade the protection offered by existing vaccine boosters and the updated vaccine expected to launch in the coming weeks. The World Health Organization is closely monitoring the situation following reports of BA.2.86 cases in Denmark, Israel, and the United Kingdom. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also began tracking the variant on August 17, following its discovery by a University of Michigan lab, which isolated it from a Washtenaw County resident’s sample.

According to the CDC, as of the latest update, 24 cases of the BA.2.86 variant have been reported globally, with three detected in the United States, in Michigan, Ohio, and Virginia. While it’s too early to ascertain the severity of this new variant, it might have been circulating undetected for some time.

The question of whether to get a booster shot lingers. The current booster, introduced last year, was designed to safeguard against the original omicron variant. An updated booster, tailored to combat the XBB.1.5 variant, is anticipated in October. Doctors advise that healthy individuals who believe they have robust immunity from past vaccinations or infections should wait for the updated booster, as the current vaccine primarily protects against fading strains.

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is expected to review the fall booster at its meeting on September 12. Importantly, due to more than three years of vaccines and infections, communities are now less vulnerable to future strains compared to the early days of the pandemic.

In a best-case scenario, BA.2.86 might emerge as an “attenuating” coronavirus, potentially replacing existing COVID variants while causing less severe illness. Nevertheless, individuals with chronic conditions or compromised immune systems should exercise extra caution, including mask-wearing. Children who have fallen behind on their boosters should follow CDC guidelines and get the current booster, with plans to receive the updated version when available.

In this evolving landscape, it’s important to note that COVID testing has seen changes as well. The pandemic emergency rule requiring insurers to cover up to eight free tests per month for beneficiaries has ended, and over-the-counter tests are less readily available in many pharmacies.

Medicaid plans are still required by federal law to cover both over-the-counter and more reliable lab tests through September 30, 2024. Medicare Part B, along with certain Advantage plans, may also cover lab testing when ordered by a physician. Some at-home tests provided by the state health department remain available for free at over 200 Michigan libraries, with an additional 100,000 on order.

Moreover, dozens of community testing sites across Michigan offer free tests, including Community Action Agencies. The CDC’s no-cost testing locator is another valuable resource to find testing options.

As we navigate this ongoing challenge, it is crucial to remember the impact that COVID-19 has had on the Black community. During the rise and peak of the pandemic, the Black community was disproportionately affected. Staying safe and following public health guidelines is not just about individual health but also about protecting the most vulnerable among us. It’s a collective effort to ensure that no community bears a disproportionate burden of this virus.

About Post Author


From the Web

Skip to content