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New variant of COVID brings trouble to New York and NJ – NBC New York (47)

what to know

  • You’ve probably heard of the XBB.1.5 variant; it’s the latest “most transmissible COVID variant yet” and appears to be better at binding to human cells, potentially making it more adept at infecting.
  • At present, there is no evidence that the strain, a combination of two previous subvariants of omicron, is deadlier or more likely to cause complications from COVID, but as a senior White House official said last week, if not you have recently been vaccinated or infected, your protection is probably not so good.
  • Nowhere is XBB.1.5 more prevalent than in the northeastern United States, according to the CDC, and hospitalization and mortality rates, along with cases, are rising accordingly.

NEW YORKCOVID-19 hospitalizations in New York and New Jersey climbed to 11-month highs as the most transmissible variant so far, a combination of two previous omicron strains, fuels another wave of infections nearly three years after the pandemic, the latest federal health data show.

Deaths are also on the rise, with weekly death reports for both states currently at their highest levels since early last year, according to the CDC. In New York City, the rolling average of COVID deaths is the highest since February 2022, while rolling hospitalizations are at a level not seen since the fall of the initial omicron wave.

The CDC’s COVID guidelines state that face masks should be worn in all environments in New York City, Long Island and much of the Hudson Valley given the high rate of spread. And the entire state of New Jersey is at the agency’s highest risk rating, its most recent data shows. While elected officials and their health departments have advised people to follow those guidelines, especially if they’re more vulnerable in terms of age or underlying condition, no new mandates have been issued.

And no new mandates are expected either, at this point in the pandemic.

New York State Gov. Kathy Hochul and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, both Democrats, will deliver their State of the State addresses on Tuesday. It remains to be seen whether the ongoing COVID response will once again play a prominent role in those discourses. Given these graphs, the odds are pretty likely.

Last week, the New York State Department of Health announced that the XBB.1.5 variant is by far the most locally dominant strain, accounting for more than 50 percent of infections statewide. This percentage is likely to be considerably higher given the relatively small percentage of positive tests that undergo the extensive genetic sequencing process to isolate variants.

The same is true for New Jersey, where 38.4% of XBB.1.5 linked sequence cases reflect data that has not been updated since mid-December. In New York City, where the data also lags, the prevalence of XBB.1.5 is likely well above the health department’s latest 68 percent update on Christmas Eve.

The most recent data from the CDC suggests that XBB.1.5 is spreading in the northeastern United States at a much higher rate than the rest of the country, accounting for up to 81 percent of cases in the region including New York and New Jersey than estimated maximum of 43% for the nation.

While there is “no clear evidence yet,” according to New York State, that XBB.1.5 significantly affects the virulence or disease severity of COVID, early data indicate that it is more infectious than other circulating variants. The fact that it has come at a time when both COVID and flu cases remain high is all the more reason for increased caution, he says.

New York City’s positivity rates are confirming transmissibility issues, with more than a third of neighborhoods across the five boroughs seeing those numbers above 20%, with some places exceeding 30% positivity.

Omicron is still classified as a variant of concern according to the CDC and the World Health Organization. That strain, which first emerged in South Africa in November 2021, although it was likely there before, is the only variant of concern currently circulating, according to the WHO.

To be a variant of concern, WHO states that a strain must be associated with one or more of the following changes at a level of global significance:

  • Increased transmissibility or harmful change in the epidemiology of COVID-19; OR
  • Increased virulence or change in the clinical presentation of the disease; OR
  • Decrease in the effectiveness of public health and social measures or of available diagnostics, vaccines and treatments

Given its level of infectivity and ongoing mutation, WHO recommends that each omicron descendant be monitored differently. That’s what officials in New York and New Jersey continue to do as they implore the public to double down on the mitigations that have been proven to work since the pandemic began, from washing hands and staying home when sick to vaccination, wear a mask in crowded areas and get tested regularly.

Hochul continues to urge New Yorkers, and even the White House, to get their updated bivalent boosters if they haven’t already (see vaccine data). The head of the White House Task Force on COVID recently made the point, saying that if you haven’t recently been infected or received that booster, you probably aren’t protected against XBB.1.5.

Overall, experts say healthy, vaccinated people still have a much lower risk of complications from COVID than either immunocompromised or unvaccinated or undervaccinated people.

As Hochul said in his latest COVID update, “I urge everyone to remain vigilant and continue to use all available tools to keep themselves, their loved ones and their communities safe and healthy. Stay up to date on vaccine doses and test before meetings o If your result is positive, talk to your doctor about possible treatment options.”

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