Health officials: Latest COVID variant spreading quickly, not as severe as previous variants

Published: Jan. 24, 2023 at 10:55 PM CST
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Lake Charles, LA (KPLC) - It’s been more than three years since the U.S. discovered its first case of COVID, and now experts are warning people about the latest variant that’s on the rise.

The XBB 1.5 COVID variant is spreading quickly.

“The big difference with this one is it’s more transmissible than any of the previous omicron variants that we’ve seen. The good news is that so far we don’t have any indication that it’s more severe,” said Region 5 Medical Director Dr. Lacey Cavanaugh.

Cavanaugh said, like other variants, older people or those with pre-existing conditions are likely to experience more severe effects.

“Risk factors remain the same as what we’ve seen with most of the variants. It definitely seems to have more severe impacts on older folks people who may not have previous immunity, or people who have immune system compromised, or a lot of other chronic conditions are at higher risk for severe disease,” Cavanaugh said.

In the latest report on COVID numbers more than 5,200 new cases were reported, and that’s a far cry from this time last year where we saw roughly 88,000.

Cavanaugh says positive tests often go unreported and that hospitalizations are a better way to gauge the severity of the new variant.

“In this region we are seeing about 25 to 30 hospitalizations, that’s reported out weekly. That’s a little bit of an increase from where we were a couple weeks ago but no where near where we’ve been during some of our previous peaks,” Cavanaugh said.

In the coming weeks this specific variant is expected to be the leading cause in new cases.

“The new variant is about a little under 30 percent of the total cases nationally, but that’s rising really quickly. Here in this region it’s a little bit under 20 percent, but we expect that in the upcoming weeks this variant will likely be the dominant strain circulating in the area,” Cavanaugh said.

Preliminary indications show that vaccines are still effective against severe disease for this variant, but experts are encouraging people to get their updated booster.