The Signal

Public Health: New COVID variant emerges

- By Trevor Morgan

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has announced that a new variant of COVID-19 has emerged.

Health officials are saying the new strain, XBB.1.5, overtook the previously dominate strain, BQ.1.1., on Jan. 21 and now accounts for nearly 33% of sequenced specimens. However, it hasn’t caused a surge in transmissi­on that previously new strains have in the past.

L.A. County has remained in the Centers for Disease Control’s “low” tier for four consecutiv­e weeks. Case rates and hospitaliz­ations haven’t decreased recently but they also haven’t increased — deaths, on the other hand, have gone down.

This doesn’t mean the new strain isn’t something to worry about though, as health officials say it has more potential to cause infection and while, overall, the pandemic is diminishin­g, it can still be deadly for those most at risk.

Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer expressed her sympathies for those who have died while also expressing optimism in the recent numbers.

“I extend my deepest sympathies to those who have lost a loved one to COVID-19. Please accept my condolence­s and wishes for comfort and healing,” said Ferrer. “I continue to be encouraged by the COVID numbers we are seeing in L.A. County. Amidst the optimism, I know we all need to continue to support those who remain impacted by COVID-19, particular­ly residents who are older, immunocomp­romised, have disabiliti­es, and those with many exposures during the course of their day.

The Health Department said those who are not vaccinated against the virus are six times more likely to be hospitaliz­ed and eight times more likely to die when compared to those who have received the newest bivalent vaccine — which protects against the original strand of COVID-19 and Omicron’s sub-variant, BA.5

Public Health also said these vaccines provide “significan­t protection” against the new XBB.1.5 strain. The bivalent vaccine is free and available to adults and children ages 6 months or older, 2 months after their last COVID-19 vaccine or booster.

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