Parents, I regret to inform you that there’s a new COVID-19 variant in town. Here’s everything you need to know to keep your family safe this winter.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released new data about which strains of COVID-19 are circulating right now. XBB.1.5, a subvariant of the Omicron strain, is responsible for a staggering 40.5 percent of all COVID-19 cases in the United States from December 25–31, 2022. That’s up from 20 percent of cases just two weeks ago.
XBB.1.5 is also hitting certain regions of the country especially hard — particularly the Northeast, where roughly 75 percent of confirmed cases are due to this strain.
This data is raising concerns about another surge in COVID-19 cases following the winter holidays, and rightfully so. Many of us traveled to see family or gathered indoors in congregate settings, potentially exposing ourselves and our loved ones to XBB.1.5.
To make matters worse, this is all occurring in the context of a particularly brutal cold and flu season. The flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) — two other respiratory viruses with potentially severe complications for certain high-risk patients — are also spreading. The “unprecedented” 2022–2023 RSV season appears to have peaked in early December, but the flu still poses a major threat. Per recent CDC numbers, this flu season has caused at least 20 million illnesses, 210,000 hospitalizations, and 13,000 deaths nationwide.
The good news? At this juncture, there’s no indication that XBB.1.5 causes more severe illness from COVID-19 than any other Omicron strain. Speaking to NBC News, Dr. Barbara Mahon, director of the CDC’s Coronavirus and Other Respiratory Viruses Division, said it does not appear to be causing proportionate spikes in hospitalizations, either. (Many hospitals nationwide have been overburdened and under-resourced for months, so that is a major relief.)
However, studies and clinical cases suggest XBB.1.5 is capable of evading existing COVID-19 antibodies. This means it could more easily infect people who have previously had the virus or been vaccinated against it.
So, what can you do to keep yourself and your loved ones healthy? The COVID-19 vaccine is still an excellent first line of defense. It is safe, free, and effective in preventing severe illness from COVID-19. As of last month, the latest COVID-19 booster shot — which likely offers some protection against this new variant, per NBC News — is FDA approved for everyone 6 months old and up.
Additionally, consider getting your annual flu shot, which the CDC also recommends for everyone older than 6 months.
Basic good hygiene practices can go a long way in preventing illness from the flu, RSV, and COVID-19. These include regularly washing your hands, disinfecting high-use surfaces in the household or workplace, covering your mouth and nose while coughing or sneezing, and wearing an effective face mask or respirator.
Since the flu, RSV, and COVID-19 are all respiratory viruses, they can present with similar symptoms. If you or your child falls ill, seek diagnostic testing as soon as possible. This will ensure you get the appropriate care for your situation. For instance, certain antiviral medications could be available to help alleviate your flu symptoms or shorten the duration of your illness.
Before you go, read up on these natural cold remedies for the children in your life: