CDC: New, Highly Infectious COVID Variant Spreading Much Faster in NY, NJ Than US

A new most transmissible-yet COVID variant has established dominance in the New York area, fueling rising infection rates across the five boroughs as a looming nurses’ strike and ongoing concerns about RSV in kids stoke fresh anxiety about the years-long pandemic.

That XBB.1.5 strain, another omicron descendant, is a highly contagious “recombinant” one spawned from two prior, and different omicron subvariants. Those two were considered more transmissible than their predecessors at the time they emerged, and the resulting fusion — XBB.1.5 — is believed to be that much more potent in terms of infectiousness.

At this point, the World Health Organization doesn’t have any data to indicate it is more lethal or causes more severe cases, but the rate at which it is spreading, especially in the northeastern United States, is raising some questions.

Global health officials are worried about the rapid spread rate — the number of people infected with XBB.1.5 has been doubling in the U.S. about every two weeks — according to WHO COVID-19 Technical Lead Maria VanKerkhove.

“It is the most transmissible subvariant that has been detected yet,” she told reporters this week. “The more this virus circulates, the more opportunities it will have to change.”

And nowhere is XBB.1.5 circulating faster than the northeast, according to CDC data. Its latest update estimates the variant’s prevalence in the New York region, which also encompasses New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, to be 72.2% but as high as 80.8%, compared with a 40.5% estimated prevalence and 61% high at the national level.


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