New Omicron variant XBB.1.5 rapidly spreading across NYC region

A new Omicron variant is sweeping across the New York City area and the nation to kick off 2023, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The variant is known as XBB.1.5, and now represents roughly 41% of new cases nationwide. 

XBB.1.5 has become the primary strain seen across the tri-state area as well, representing just over 50% of cases found in New York in the week leading up to Christmas, nearly 32% of cases in Connecticut through December 28, and has quickly grown to represent 12% of cases in New Jersey. XBB also represents a whopping 56% of new cases in New York City

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The new variant was first identified in November and has quickly spread across the nation, with experts concerned that infection rates could spike even further with the holiday travel season coming to an end. 

"#COVID19 variant #XBB.1.5 may be more transmissible than other variants, but we don’t know if it causes more severe disease," said the CDC in a tweet. "We’re closely watching this variant to see how well our vaccines & treatments are working against it."

Experts speaking to CNBC said that the variant appears to be highly immune evasive and is more effective at dodging protections from omicron boosters than other subvariants. 

In a study published in the journal Cell, scientists said that XBB and its subvariants could  "further compromise the efficacy of current COVID-19 vaccines and result in a surge of breakthrough infections as well as re-infections."

The news comes as the CDC has announced that travelers from China coming to the U.S. must test negative for COVID-19, citing a lack of adequate and transparent data coming from China for why the testing requirement was placed.

While COVID hospitalizations have risen 3.6% across the U.S. in recent weeks, hospitalizations in the northeast, have not seen any major increases. Nationwide, deaths have also remained fairly steady. 

Doctors say the vaccine and booster are still the best line of defense available against COVID-19. So far about percent of 12.5% of people in the city have received the bivalent booster.