A New Coronavirus Variant Raises Concerns in the U.S. Northeast

The XBB.1.5 subvariant now accounts for 41 percent of new infections across the country

Dr. Zach Zachariah

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First reports of a new respiratory illness, which became a pandemic, began to leak from Wuhan, China towards the end of December 2019. One death in the county due to the SARS-COV-2 VIRUS was confirmed on January 11, 2020. The first documented case of Covid in the U.S. was in Washington State on January 20, 2020. The original Alpha variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus went through several mutations, which along with the other major variants, Delta and Omicron, killed millions of people worldwide.

The mRNA vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna became available by January 2021 followed by Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine a month later. Widespread vaccinations followed by booster doses in the U.S., Europe, many parts of Asia, Oceania, and some African countries made a serious dent in the spread of the diseases and minimized the number of hospitalizations and deaths. Despite vaccinations, 6.69 million people died of Covid worldwide. The United States alone reported 1.09 million deaths due to Covid.

On December 20, 2022, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported tracking a new variant of concern dubbed XBB.1.5. The XBB subvariant, from which XBB.1.5 descends, is a recombinant of two subvariants, BA.2.10.1 and BA.2.75, that descended from the BA.2 Omicron subvariant. The CDC estimates XBB.1.5 makes up 40.5% of new infections across the country, up from 20% a week ago, and it accounts for 75 percent of new Covid cases in New England and the New York tri-state area.

According to an NBC News tally, as of January 2, 2023, there is an 8.5% increase in the two-week average Covid hospitalizations. During the same period, the number of daily intensive care unit admissions increased by 10.9%.

Chinese scientists have reported the XBB.1.5 mutation appears to offer a “greatly enhanced” ability to bind to cells, which could be one reason for its rapid spread. This particular variant has mutations that could allow the virus to evade Covid-19 vaccine boosters and cause more breakthrough infections, CNBC reports.

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Dr. Zach Zachariah

Ph.D. chemist with an M.B.A. | Enrolled Agent | Writes on science | economy | taxes | public interest topics | American politics | Indian-Americans | COVID-19