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CDC: COVID-19 Omicron subvariant XBB jumps to 18% of US cases

 

Passengers walk past Washington Reagan National Airport on December 20, 2022. Winter storms in much of the country can cause travel delays over the Christmas holidays. (Reuters photo)
Passengers walk past Washington Reagan National Airport on December 20, 2022. Winter storms in much of the country can cause travel delays over the Christmas holidays. (Reuters photo)

The highly contagious COVID-19 Omicron subvariant XBB has soared to more than 50% of COVID-19 cases in the northeastern United States. Given that millions of Americans embarked on holiday vacation trips on Friday (Dec. 23), the Omicron variant is at risk of spreading rapidly.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday (December 23), the XBB subtype variant accounted for an estimated 18.3% of COVID-19 cases in the United States in the week ending December 24, up from 11.2% the week before.

The subtype currently dominates in the northeastern United States, but accounts for less than 10 percent of infections in many other parts of the United States, the CDC said.

Andrew Pekosz, a virologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, said holiday travel in the United States could accelerate the spread of the XBB subtype across the country.

The American Automobile Association (AAA) estimates that 112.7 million people plan to leave their homes and travel 50 miles (80 kilometers) or more between Friday and Jan. 2, an increase of 3.6 million from last year and close to pre-pandemic figures.

But that number of travelers could be reduced by dangerous weather, which will complicate weekend air and road trips.

“Whenever a new variant moves to a different geographic area, there is a real risk of small outbreaks in that area,” Pecos said.

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Still, Pecos said he didn’t see the XBB subtype driving the kind of massive spike in cases caused by the original Omicron variant last winter.

Anthony Fauci, the chief infectious disease expert in the United States, said in November that the updated COVID-19 vaccine booster (vaccine against the original strain of the new coronavirus and the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants) will still provide “some, but not optimal” protection against the XBB variant.

XBB is a subtype variant of the BA.2 variant.

The earliest BA.5 lineage now accounts for only a small fraction of cases and has been replaced by its clades BQ.1 and BQ.1.1; although they are showing a downward trend, they are still the dominant variants in the United States.

The increase in cases of this new variant comes a week after the White House COVID Response Coordinator urged Americans to get a flu shot and a renewed COVID-19 booster, noting that cases of the new variant are increasing in about 90 percent of the U.S. ahead of the year-end holidays.

The XBB variant has been driving the increase in cases in parts of Asia, including Singapore. While some experts say it’s more transmissible, it hasn’t led to a spike in hospitalizations.

The CDC said cases of the BQ.1.1 and BQ.1 variants are expected to account for 63.1 percent of U.S. cases, compared with 64.6 percent a week ago.

(This article is based on a Reuters report.)

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