New variant of COVID causes New York’s case count to jump; High Hospitalizations – NBC New YorkThank you for reading this post, don't forget to subscribe!
what you should Know
- You’ve probably heard of the XBB.1.5 variant; it’s the latest ‘most transmissible variant of COVID yet’ and it appears to be better at binding to human cells, which may make it more adept at infecting
- There is no evidence at this time that the strain, a combination of two previous omicron subvariants, is more deadly or more likely to cause complications of COVID, but as a senior White House official said last week, if you have not been vaccinated or infected lately, your defense is probably not so good
- Nowhere is XBB.1.5 more prevalent than in the northeastern United States, according to the CDC — and continued hospitalization and death rates, along with cases, have risen accordingly
Hospitalizations for COVID-19 in New York and New Jersey jumped to 11-month highs as the most transmittable variant ever, a combination of two previous omicron strainsis fueling another wave of infections nearly three full years after the pandemic began, the latest federal health data show.
Deaths are also on the rise, with weekly death reports for both states now at their highest levels since early last year, according to the CDC. In New York, the rolling average of COVID-19 deaths is the highest since February 2022, while rising hospitalizations are at a height not seen since the initial wave of the outbreak.
CDC COVID guidelines say face masks should be worn everywhere in New York City, Long Island and much of the Hudson Valley, given the high rate of transmission. And the entire state of New Jersey is at the agency’s highest risk level, the latest data shows. Although elected officials and their health departments have advised people to follow these guidelines, especially if they are more vulnerable due to age or underlying illnesses, no new mandates have been issued.
And at this stage of the pandemic, no new mandates are expected.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, both Democrats, are set to deliver their State of the State speeches on Tuesday. It remains to be seen whether the ongoing response to COVID will again play a major role in these speeches. Given these charts, the odds are quite likely.
NEW YORK STATE COVID TRENDS (via CDC)
CASES AND DEATHS
Last week, the New York State Department of Health announced The XBB.1.5 variant is by far the most dominant strain locally, accounting for more than 50% of infections nationwide. This proportion is likely to be significantly higher given relatively low proportion of positive tests which undergo the exhaustive process of genetic sequencing to isolate variants.
The same can be said for New Jersey, where a 38.4% share of XBB.1.5-related sequence cases reflected data that had not been updated since mid-December. In New York, where data is also lagging, XBB.1.5 prevalence is likely well above the 68% share the health department last updated on Christmas Eve.
COvid TRENDS IN NEW JERSEY
The latest CDC data shows that XBB.1.5 is spreading in the northeastern United States at a much higher rate than the rest of the country, which accounts for up to 81% of cases in the region that includes New York and New Jersey compared to a 43% high for the nation.
Although there is “still unclear evidence,” according to New York State, that XBB.1.5 significantly affects the virulence of COVID or the severity of the disease, early evidence suggests that it is more infectious than other circulating variants. The fact that it comes at a time when cases of COVID and flu remain high is an added reason for increased caution, it said.
The positivity rate in New York City confirms concerns about transmissionwith more than a third of neighborhoods across the five boroughs seeing those numbers above 20% — and some places exceeding 30% positivity.
New York City COVID Variant and Hospitalization Data
Omicron is still classified as a variant of concern according to the CDC and the World Health Organization. This strain, which first appeared in South Africa in November 2021, although it may have been there earlier, is the only variant of concern currently in circulation, according to the WHO.
To be a variant of concern, the WHO says a strain must be associated with one or more of the following changes in magnitude of global significance:
- Increase in infectivity or adverse change in the epidemiology of COVID-19; OR
- Increase in virulence or change in the clinical presentation of the disease; OR
- Reducing the effectiveness of public health and social measures or available diagnostics, vaccines, therapies
The CDC said the new variant of COVID-19 is responsible for 75% of new cases.
Given their level of infectivity and ongoing mutation, the WHO advises that any omicron offspring be closely monitored. That’s what officials in New York and New Jersey are continuing to do as they ask the public to double down on mitigations that have proven to work since the pandemic began, from hand washing and staying home when you’re sick to getting vaccinated, wearing masks in crowded areas and get tested regularly.
Hochul continues to urge New Yorkers — as well as the White House — to get their updated bivalent booster shots if they haven’t already (see vaccine data). The head of the White House task force on COVID recently highlighted thissaying that if you haven’t been infected recently or had this booster, you’re probably not protected by XBB.1.5.
In general, experts say healthy, vaccinated people are still at much lower risk of complications from COVID than immunocompromised or un- and under-vaccinated 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. Keep up with vaccine doses and test before gatherings or travel. If you test positive, talk to your doctor about possible treatment options.”
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