Conversation Starters

Get helpful tips on how to communicate timely and accurate information to your friends, family, and community members with the below talking points.

An illustration of a woman looking at the screen of her mobile phone

Conversation Starters

Last Updated: September 12, 2023

What is the latest on BA.2.86?

BA.2.86, now dubbed Pirola, may be less contagious than experts first thought.

  • Several lab results have shown that our bodies can fight off BA.2.86 as well as or even more effectively than other currently circulating variants.
  • This means that “we can expect BA.2.86 to cause infections, but not as much as anticipated,” according to Your Local Epidemiologist.
  • Lab results also showed that people who had a recent XBB infection had the highest level of protection against BA.2.86.

BA.2.86 continues to spread but not as fast as the first Omicron variant.

The upcoming fall vaccines are expected to help protect us against BA.2.86, and so are some existing treatments.

View Resource Download resource: English / Spanish
Last Updated: September 11, 2023

What is BA.2.86?

Most COVID-19 indicators continue to rise in the U.S.

  • Most COVID-19 indicators continue to rise, according to the CDC: hospital admissions, emergency department visits, test positivity, and wastewater levels.
  • Hospital admissions rose by 18.8 percent between August 13 and August 19, while deaths rose by 21.4 percent in the same timeframe.
  • Notably, emergency department visits for COVID-19 have increased significantly among children younger than 1. Dr. Dean Winslow, professor of medicine at Stanford University, told Everyday Health that this may be because babies younger than 6 months are not eligible for COVID-19 vaccines, which may make them more vulnerable.
  • The EG.5 Omicron subvariant (also called Eris) is likely contributing to the current summer wave.

BA.2.86 is concerning because it is a highly mutated variant.

  • A new subvariant, BA.2.86, was recently detected in the U.S., Denmark, the U.K., and Israel. Because it’s been identified in multiple countries and also in wastewater, we know more cases are spreading undetected in communities.
  • BA.2.86 is a highly mutated variant, meaning it’s significantly different from more recent variants. Its genetic changes are concerning to some experts because they could potentially help the variant better evade a person’s prior immunity.
  • We don’t yet know if WHO will label BA.2.86 a variant of concern, like Omicron. If it does, the next Greek name in line is Pi.
  • We also don’t yet know if the variant will cause more severe disease or be more transmissible.

But it’s not all bad news: BA.2.86 is still COVID-19.

  • As Your Local Epidemiologist states, this new variant is still COVID-19, so our immune systems will recognize it.
  • The variant can also be detected on a PCR test, so it’s easier to track.
  • We’ll have more information soon; WHO, the CDC, and scientists are working to determine how our immune systems react to BA.2.86 in the real world and how well treatments like Paxlovid work against it.
View Resource Download resource: English / Spanish
Last Updated: August 14, 2023

Do you need a booster?

COVID-19 metrics are up across the country.

Experts think the wave could be due to waning immunity and indoor activities because of the heat.

  • Some experts believe this wave wasn’t caused by a new variant because all the current variants are Omicron descendants.
  • Others point to how fast the COVID-19 virus continues to mutate, compared to, for instance, the flu.
  • The wave could be due to our waning immunity and, most importantly, people moving back indoors for activities because of the heat.
  • The bivalent booster from last fall is not as effective against the new XBB Omicron subvariants, which are the current dominant strains.

Immunocompromised people and older adults should talk to their health care provider about possibly getting a booster.

Last Updated: July 28, 2023

Are COVID-19 cases increasing?

Several COVID-19 indicators showed small increases.

The World Health Organization is monitoring a new COVID-19 subvariant.

Deaths are not increasing, which is good news.

  • While there are some indicators on the rise, others are not, which is a good sign.
  • Deaths (considered one of the more accurate indicators) have not increased in the U.S.
  • It’s a good idea to remain cautious, especially for older adults and people who are immunocompromised.
Last Updated: July 26, 2023

Is COVID still contributing to excess deaths?

U.S. excess deaths have fallen to under 1 percent, but other metrics have increased.

  • Several databases, including the CDC’s, indicate that over the past three months, U.S. excess deaths have fallen to under 1 percent. This means that the number of Americans dying every day is no longer abnormally high.
  • This is a big milestone in the fight against COVID-19, especially considering that excess deaths during the past three years have ranged between above 10 percent and over 30 percent at their highest.
  • However, it’s important to note that people in the U.S. are still dying from COVID-19. According to the CDC, 324 people died from COVID-19 during the first week of July.
  • This means the pandemic is not quite over.
  • Some metrics point to an increase in cases. The University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy reports that emergency department visits for COVID-19 are up 10.7 percent compared to the previous week, and test positivity also rose slightly in the U.S. Additionally, wastewater surveillance, which is usually an early COVID-19 indicator, is showing an increase in several U.S. regions.

Vaccination is a big reason why excess deaths have significantly dropped.

  • According to the CDC, 81.4 percent of the U.S. population has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and 69.5 percent completed their primary series.
  • As the New York Times points out, most of the people who are dying from COVID-19 are both older and unvaccinated.
  • This means that vaccination is a significant factor in whether a person dies from COVID-19.

Experts also credit treatments and natural immunity.

  • Antiviral COVID-19 treatments like Paxlovid are also behind the decrease in excess deaths.
  • Paxlovid, an oral pill that received full FDA approval in May, reduces hospitalization and death by 86 percent in unvaccinated, high-risk people.
  • The fact that around 77.5 percent of people 16 and older in the U.S. have antibodies from COVID-19 infection is another reason why we may have reached this milestone.
View Resource Download resource: English / Spanish
See all Topics

Automatic translation disclaimer

El sitio web Vaccine Resource Hub proporciona una traducción automática de al español, por medio del Traductor de Google. Por favor, tenga en cuenta que la versión en inglés es considerada la más precisa. En caso de desacuerdo o discrepancia entre la traducción y la versión original en inglés de este sitio web o cualquier aviso o descargo, prevalecerá la versión original.