XBB.1.5 COVID Variant: What Parents Need to Know

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.)

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