Medical professional offers advice on how to manage the rise of Covid-19 variants

Meetings are back to in-person, but the possibility of contracting Covid-19 still looms with high-profile individuals like First Lady Jill Biden having recently tested positive for the disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Covid data tracker, between Aug. 4 and Sept. 2, Covid-related hospitalization rose to 8.7%, resulting in 18,871 total hospitalizations.

On Aug. 23, the CDC released a summary of what was known about the latest variant of BA.2.86. In their current risk assessment, the CDC stated that “BA.2.86 may be more capable of causing infection in people who have previously had Covid-19 or who have received Covid-19 vaccines.”

The ever-evolving variants of Covid-19 make it difficult to determine how contagious the virus can be. Smart Meetings spoke with Donal Bisanzio, DVM, Ph.D., senior epidemiologist of RTI International, to get a sense of what action meeting planners and attendees might want to take in light of the newest variant.

Smart Meetings: How concerned should we be about the newest COVID variant BA.2.86? 

Donal Bisanzio: It is too soon to know if we should be concerned about the circulation of BA.2.86. We need more time to have a clear understanding of the risk of severe illness from the new variant. However, even at this early stage, investigations performed to assess the risk of severe illness from BA.2.86 have suggested that there is no evidence that this variant has a higher risk of severe illness compared to previous variants. Nevertheless, people should adopt protective behaviors in public spaces with high crowding, such as public transportation, flights and large gatherings of people.

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SM: How much different is this wave than other variants?  

DB: Investigations performed by the CDC and research groups have highlighted the presence of several mutations. The number of mutations is comparable to those seen before in the Omicron and Delta variants. However, it is too early to say that these mutations will provide a transmission advantage, such as high immune escape, and increase the severity of the BA.2.86 variant. 

SM: For individuals planning events, should we be telling our attendees to wear masks in transit and at the event? 

DB: I would suggest promoting personal protective behavior by wearing masks, washing hands and using alcohol-based hand sanitizer (70% Alcohol). You should also suggest that people belonging to those groups at high risk of severe illness should get vaccinated with the new updated vaccine.

SM: What can event planners do to help to boost the immunity of the individuals who come to events now? 

DB: The only way to boost the immune system is by getting vaccinated. The CDC has suggested getting a booster of the new updated vaccine. Although many internet sources (e.g., blogs, social media) list many non-medical methods to boost the immune system, none of these methods have been scientifically proven to boost the immune system and protect against SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 infection. Those at high risk of severe illness should get a dose of the new Covid-19 vaccine. 

SM: Are there any precautions event planners should be taking to keep event attendees safe and informed? 

DB: Planners should ask attendees to wear masks and use hand sanitizer. If possible, the planners should improve the ventilation of the event venue. It has been shown that good ventilation reduces the risk of virus spreading among people. Planners should also provide masks and hand sanitizer to the attendees at the event entrance and promote personal protective behavior by hanging signs asking attendees to use masks and hand sanitizer. 

SM: What can we do to stay healthy?   

DB: People at risk of severe symptoms should get a booster of the new updated vaccination. Wearing masks and using good hygiene habits (hand sanitizer and hand washing) are well-known methods to help reduce the Covid-19 infection risk.