Blog Post

What’s Going on with COVID? And What’s BA.2.86?

| Sep. 07, 2023

The virus responsible for COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) undergoes constant genetic changes as it mutates over time. This is normal and what most viruses do. Because of this, we do anticipate the continual emergence of new SARS-CoV-2 variants. While some of these variants might appear and then fade away - think of the Delta variant which became the dominate variant in the late summer and fall of 2021 in the U.S. - others could increase, potentially taking the place of older variants.

BA.2.86 is a SARS-CoV-2 variant with a constellation of over 30 mutations. It’s important to know there are over 30 variants of SARS-CoV-2 circulating in the U.S, with EG.5 making up 21.5%, FL.1.5.1 making up 14.5% and XBB.1.16.6 making up 9.2% of sequenced specimens. BA.2.86 currently makes up less than 1% of circulating SARS-CoV-2 viruses in the U.S. All currently circulating variants, including BA.2.86, are from the omicron family.

So, what do we know so far about this BA.2.86 variant? Current preliminary data is encouraging. First, upcoming Covid boosters will provide a good level of protection against BA.2.86 based on clinical trial data shared by Modera. Second, preliminary lab and epidemiological data found the BA.2.86 variant on par with most other variants though there may be some growth advantage with BA.2.86. And third, as stated by the CDC, there is currently no evidence that the BA.2.86 variant is causing more severe illness and the current increases in cases and hospitalizations in the United States are likely being driven by infections with XBB lineage viruses, not the new BA.2.86 variant. Note: This assessment may change as additional scientific data are developed.

Regardless of the variant, we all know what to do:

  1. Stay up to date with your COVID-19 vaccination: Current COVID-19 vaccines continue to do a great job in reducing hospitalizations and death. Be on the look out for the updated COVID-19 booster and information on if you’re eligible to get vaccinated. CDC’s ACIP is meeting on Sept. 12th; vaccines may become available shortly thereafter. Check the CDC’s website here to see when the updated fall booster becomes available.
  2. Wear High Quality Masks: Wearing a high-quality mask like N95s and KN95s provides great protection. Keep a mask in your pocket and wear it anytime you’re in a crowded place or confined space with other people.
  3. Have COVID Tests Available at Home: Having rapid, at-home covid tests is always a good idea, especially if you think you’ve been exposed to someone with covid or become symptomatic. Note that, “The U.S. government will continue to make COVID-19 tests available to uninsured individuals and underserved communities through existing outreach programs.  Please contact a HRSA health centerTest to Treat site, or ICATT location near you to learn how to access low- or no-cost COVID-19 tests provided by the federal government.”
  4. Be Aware of Local Transmission and Hospitalization Levels: Be on the lookout for local covid activity in your area. Here’s CDC’s webpage to find your geographic area and associated covid data. If cases, wastewater levels or hospitalizations are going up, stay cautious and plan activities with added precautions, especially if you’re in the high-risk category.
For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Madad, Syra.What’s Going on with COVID? And What’s BA.2.86?.” September 7, 2023,