It’s been three years since COVID-19 emerged and although vaccines and boosters have significantly diminished the likelihood of hospitalization and death from infection, new variants continue to plague populations. Most recently the XBB.1.5 strain of coronavirus is becoming dominant in certain parts of the United States and is more virulent than earlier mutations and better able to evade the immune system defences.
According to a recent Washington Post Health report, researchers stress that XBB did not evolve due to vaccinations but because people have been infected with multiple viruses simultaneously. As expected, following holiday gatherings and travel, the number of U.S. XBB cases rose to more than 27 percent during the first week of January – up from barely 2 percent at the start of December. The World Health Organization deems XBB.1.5 strain as the “most transmissible” mutation of the omicron variant to date.
Health officials continue to urge people, especially vulnerable seniors and those with a compromised immune system, to get a booster dose of the COVID vaccine reformulated to protect against omicron subvariants. Winter cases are expected to continue to surge as cold weather keeps more people indoors. Those who have not had a recent infection or a bivalent vaccine have diminished protection against serious illness.
In addition to getting the recommended boosters for your age and any health concerns, wearing a high-quality mask indoors in crowded settings like airports, concert halls, or places of worship is advisable. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls for infected patients to isolate for at least five days, and may end isolation on Day 6 if symptoms have improved and no fever has been detected for at least 24 hours without medication. Anyone still testing positive after this period is advised to wear a mask until Day 10, avoid travel, and limit contact with highly vulnerable people. For clarification, Day 1 is considered the day after you start feeling symptoms or test positive.
Talk with your doctor or local health unit to determine when you are eligible to receive a bivalent booster vaccine. Learn more about COVID-19 vaccines including boosters by following this link to the CDC website.