PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — The COVID-19 health emergency is over, but the health threat is not.

“This is just a different phase of the pandemic,” said Norfolk-based cardiologist Dr. Keith Newby. “We never really have gotten out of it.”

The Virginia Department of Health in late August recorded a disturbing trend. Every day there were 856 new COVID-19 cases, representing a 148% increase over the previous month.

The new strain, BA.2.86, which is also known as Pirola, has 30 new mutations and is related to the omicron strain.

“If you look at this new strain, it’s really a takeoff or spinoff of the omicron strain,” Newby said, “and we do have vaccinations for that one.”

While making plans for football, holiday dinners and fall foliage tours, the doctor recommends you add vaccines to the list.

Regina Mobley: Should people wait for the new rollout, or should they get whatever is available?

Dr. Keith Newby: I would say go ahead and get whatever is available now. You can always get updated vaccinations. All vaccinations are positive. We don’t want you in the hospital. We want you home with your family.

According to the CDC, the federal government will shut down its vaccination distribution program this fall, but most Americans who have health insurance can receive the shots at no cost.

The CDC’S Bridge Access Program will provide free vaccines for a limited time for the nation’s 25 million to 30 million adults who are uninsured or underinsured. Free vaccines under this temporary program will not be available after December 2024.