New COVID-19 subvariant is spreading rapidly in Alabama

ALABAMA (WHNT) – For months, respiratory viruses like RSV and the flu have had a stronghold across the country – but these viruses appear to be waning as COVID-19 shows signs of a further surge.

A new, rapidly spreading Omicron subvariant called XBB.1.5 will account for an estimated 40 percent of COVID-19 cases in the week ending Jan. 14, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH).

dr Wes Stubblefield with ADPH warned that the emerging subvariant has been increasing very rapidly across the state, with hospitalizations having tripled since the holiday season.

“We’ve seen pretty consistent levels of COVID over the last four to six weeks,” Stubblefield noted. “We continue to see deaths from COVID-19 on a weekly basis. Our percent positivity on our samples has fallen from a high of about 23 percent. Right now we’re reporting about 13 percent, but that’s up from about 4 percent a few months ago.”

dr Raj Palraj of The Mayo Clinic told News 19 that the XBB.1.5 variant is not known to be more severe than other variants, but the levels are high on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) map for nearly all counties in Alabama.

“What we are learning about this new variant, XBB.1.5, is that compared to the previous variants, it spreads much more easily and [is] almost twice as likely to spread than previous variants,” Palraj said.

As families gathered in smaller spaces for the holiday, numbers of infections and hospitalizations surpassed last summer. Stubblefield noted that seniors are hit particularly hard.

“Furthermore, variants are increasingly contagious and just set the stage for respiratory disease in some older COVID patients,” he said. “These are both influenza, Covid and RSV, which we’ve all seen over the past few months.”

Stubblefield added that we are at a point where most COVID-19 deaths are preventable and vaccines remain the primary means of protecting people from serious COVID-19 illness and hospitalization.