New COVID-19 omicron subvariant XBB.1.5 sweeps the US

While XBB.1.5 is spreading more easily, doctors said it doesn't seem to cause more severe disease.
Posted at 11:49 AM, Feb 16, 2023

Nearly three years into the COVID-19 pandemic, the virus continues to evolve. There’s a new omicron subvariant called XBB.1.5 sweeping the nation.

“We saw it completely take over from other variants on the East Coast. .... It really became the dominant player, and now it’s kind of moving its way across the rest of the U.S.,” said Jill Roberts, associate professor at the University of South Florida College of Public Health.

The latest report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows it now makes up 74.7% of new COVID-19 infections.

“This one is moving faster. It’s taking over quicker,” said Roberts. “The minute we let the guard down, there’s something new that comes out with this nasty little bug that we’re back to having this conversation again."

Scientists said it has some concerning mutations that suggest it’s even more contagious than other strains. That’s something experts believe will likely continue as we move forward.

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A CDC panel worked with medical groups to develop an updated vaccine schedule for children and adults that now includes COVID-19 shots.


“I think the virus is going to continue to try to avoid our immune systems, try to explore our space. I mean, it’s been doing that since the beginning. It’s gotten progressively better,” said Dr. Michael Teng, virologist and associate professor at USF Health.

While XBB.1.5 is spreading more easily, doctors said it doesn’t seem to cause more severe disease.

“Some people kind of say, 'Well, the good news is, it’s mild.' I would caution that we’re still seeing 500-600 deaths a day. There’s nothing mild about that,” said Roberts.

She’s not surprised to see XBB.1.5 take over. With little mitigation efforts, there’s not much to stop the rapid spread.

“I would just remind everybody that as this strain starts to pick up a little bit down here, we can go back to wearing our masks for a little while. I know sometimes people get really upset about 'let’s wear the mask again.' It’s a temporary thing,” said Roberts.

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Those free at-home COVID tests are expected to be a thing of the past after the emergency declaration ends.


As time goes on, our existing antibodies will wane.

But health experts said the updated COVID-19 boosters are working well, even against this new variant.

“If you haven’t had the bivalent booster though, your antibodies won’t recognize this variant very well. So it’s very important, especially for our high-risk populations, our seniors, to get that bivalent booster,” said Teng.