PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) – Health experts say a new COVID-19 variant is fueling an increase in new cases, but local public health officials didn’t seem to have a lot of say on the matter. 

Doctors have dubbed the new COVID variant BA.2.86 or Pirola. It was first detected in Denmark on July 24. It has spread to a number of countries as well as Michigan, New York, Ohio, Texas, and Virginia here in the U.S..

Public health officials say there’s been a spike in overall COVID cases here in the U.S., especially during the month of August. According to the Florida Department of Health, positive COVID cases have risen from about 5,800 a week back in early June, to more than 18,000 a week in August.

In Bay County between August 11-17, there were 110 new cases, a nearly 19% increase from the week before. Researchers at the University of South Florida attribute the statewide spike to two main factors: an increase in social gatherings over the summer, and waning immunity. 

We asked the Bay County Health Department to talk to us about the apparent spike but were told they didn’t know anything about it. They referred us to the State Department of Health for comment. We called the number provided and held for 30 minutes before hanging up.

Neither of Bay County’s major hospitals returned our calls. We checked with some local pharmacies to see if more people were getting vaccinated. They told us they weren’t giving COVID vaccines and didn’t expect any new vaccine until October.

In fact, statistics show, that while COVID cases are increasing, vaccinations are steadily decreasing. The state shows vaccination or booster doses dropped from 1,500 at the beginning of June to 950 at the end of July, a 37% decrease. While federal and state governments have declared the COVID-19 pandemic officially over, many fear these latest trends show COVID isn’t finished with us.