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State, local health experts say a new COVID strain has become dominant

Centers for Disease Control

A new strain of COVID-19 now makes up a large portion of the coronavirus cases in New York state.

The state health department said on Friday that the XBB.1.5 variant now makes up more than half of COVID cases in the state, with officials calling it the predominant strain in New York.

Dr. Ed Walsh, a professor of medicine at the University of Rochester, said that variant now accounts for more than 70% of the COVID cases in the northeast.

He said getting these dominant strains of the coronavirus is not unusual.

“And we’ve seen this before,” Walsh noted. “This is what we’ve seen with the Omicron variants as they moved through, it’s what we saw with Delta over a year ago. So this is a typical pattern.“

Walsh said that while the latest variant is more contagious than recent strains, it does not seem to be making people sicker than the earlier strains.

“It just means you’re going to see more cases, and if you see more cases in particularly vulnerable people, like the elderly or people with underlying lung or heart disease, you’re going to see a little more hospitalization,” Walsh said.

And Walsh said that while the immunity from the recent bivalent boosters against COVID wanes over time, they still keep you from getting a more severe illness.

That sentiment was echoed by Acting State Health Commissioner Dr. James McDonald, who said that according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control, “those who received the bivalent booster were more than 18 times less likely to die from COVID-19 compared to unvaccinated people.”

State health officials also said that with respiratory viruses spreading, those who live, care or are around someone who is at risk of becoming very ill should be especially vigilant with mask wearing.

Randy Gorbman is WXXI's director of news and public affairs. Randy manages the day-to-day operations of WXXI News on radio, television, and online.