New, more transmissible COVID-19 subvariant XBB.1.5 on the rise

All counties in New Jersey are now listed as having high community COVID levels, based on hospital admissions and new cases.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2023
New, more transmissible COVID subvariant XBB.1.5 on the rise
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The World Health Organization has called the XBB.1.5 COVID-19 subvariant the most transmissible so far.

CAMDEN, New Jersey (WPVI) -- It has been almost three years after COVID-19 first appeared and we are still navigating new variants. This latest one - XBB.1.5 - is gaining traction, especially in the northeastern part of the United States.

For Brooks Dreyer, of Pennsauken, New Jersey, the holiday season was plagued with COVID.

"My granddaughter got it, then my daughter got it. My wife had it as well," said Dreyer.

Fortunately, everyone in his family is on the mend.

But with a new omicron subvariant circulating and lots of recent holiday gatherings, health experts are watching case counts closely.

The World Health Organization has called the XBB.1.5 subvariant the most transmissible so far.

"It's just more effective at binding in our cells, the human cells in the respiratory tract," explained Dr. Judith O'Donnell, section chief of Infectious Diseases at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center. "So, when it's a better binder, it's more likely to cause infection because it can latch onto your cells and then attack them, if you will."

According to the CDC, by the end of last week, XBB.1.5 made up 28% of COVID cases nationwide.

But in the region containing New Jersey and New York, the new subvariant accounts for 73% of cases.

In the region containing Pennsylvania and Delaware it makes up 32%.

"I'm just paying attention to it," said Judy Downing of Camden. "I hear that hospitalizations are going up, so I'm going to be wary of it."

The Camden and Philadelphia public school districts are temporarily requiring masks after winter break as a precaution.

Wastewater test sites in Bucks County and Chester County show COVID levels have dropped in the last two weeks, but Montgomery County is slightly up.

All counties in New Jersey are now listed as having high community COVID levels, based on hospital admissions and new cases.

"RSV has started to decline," said Gemma Downham, epidemiologist at AtlantiCare. "Flu is also starting to decline, but we are seeing COVID on the rise."

She says while they're seeing a surge, it's a much smaller one compared to last year.

"The biggest numbers we saw last year was 177 hospitalizations and we're in the 40s right now," said Downham. "So we're not anywhere near where we were last January, even though we are having a new variant-fueled surge."