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By Ciara McCarthy | Fort Worth Star-Telegram (TNS)

COVID hospitalizations and deaths are continuing to increase in Texas, and although the numbers still haven’t surpassed previous peaks, Texans are still getting sick and dying from the disease.

The number of COVID-associated deaths in Texas jumped in the last full week of August, increasing by 95% compared to the previous week, according to state data.

At least 37 people — an average of five people a day — died from COVID-19 between Aug. 20 and Aug. 26, according to the most recent report from the state’s health department. Nineteen people — a little under three per day — died from the disease the previous week. These deaths include all fatalities that list COVID-19 as a cause of death on death certificates. They do not include the deaths of people who had COVID but died of an unrelated cause, according to the state.

COVID hospitalizations and case numbers are also increasing. The average number of COVID hospitalizations increased by about 11%, to an average of 1,191 across the state. The number of new COVID cases has also increased considerably in August, but cases are a less reliable metric because so many people are either not taking tests or are using at-home tests, which typically don’t get reported to public health authorities.

What’s the latest COVID variant?

The variant that most scientists have their eye on is the BA.2.86 variant, which has 35 mutations on the spike protein alone. This amount of mutations makes the variant very different from the strains currently circulating.

The variant was detected in a Texas patient last month. Early information indicates that although the BA.2.86 has many mutations, there is no evidence that it causes more severe illness.

This new variant is likely not driving the increase in cases across the U.S., according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Is there a new COVID-19 vaccine?

Not yet, but a new COVID booster shot should be available later this month.

The only COVID boosters that are available are the bivalent boosters that came out last year. These boosters provide protection against two strains of the coronavirus: The original strain that emerged in 2019 as well as the Omicron variant.

A committee that advises the Center for Disease Control and Prevention will meet on Sept. 12 to discuss the newest COVID boosters. At that meeting, committee members will decide who is eligible for the latest booster. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has said the new booster will target the XBB.1.5 strain of the virus. The new booster will be different than the original two-dose vaccine series because it targets a more recent iteration of the virus than the version that was infecting people back in 2020.

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