New COVID-19 variant increases the risk of infections in Johnson County

As cases rise across the U.S., Johnson County health officials are advising residents to prepare for a spread of new omicron subvariant XBB.1.5.

Sofia Mamakos, News Reporter

Johnson County health officials are concerned about a potential increase in cases of the most recent COVID-19 subvariant as UI students return to campus after winter break.

As numbers of the new subvariant continue to rise across Iowa and the U.S., Johnson County Public Health advises the public to continue using precautionary measures to combat the growth of the highly transmissible variant.

XBB.1.5., a subvariant of omicron, is the most contagious variant of COVID-19. It was first reported in late 2022 and quickly rose to the top of all COVID-19 strains circulating in the U.S.

Jennifer Miller, Johnson County Public Health Disease prevention specialist, agrees XBB.1.5 appears more contagious than other variants.

“I’m not sure that I would say it is a higher risk in general to people in terms of causing severe illness, hospitalization, and death, but it’s possible that there could be an increase in infections,” Miller said.

According to recent findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the variant accounts for 43 percent of total COVID-19 cases across the U.S. and is continuing to grow statewide. Numbers are specifically high in eastern states.

In a risk assessment released by the World Health Organization, omicron XBB.1.5 does not carry any mutation known to be associated with a potential change in severity, but the new variant may be one contributing factor in the global rise in cases. Miller said citizens must remain vigilant about protecting their health, she said.

“From an evolutionary standpoint, it makes sense that things will change over time,” Miller said. It doesn’t mean that there is a problem with our vaccines or that there is a problem with this disease that we are overly concerned about. It reminds us that COVID-19 isn’t over.”

Johnson County is currently listed at a medium COVID-19 community level, with 15.9 COVID-19 admissions per 100,000 population, according to the CDC.

RELATED: UI students debate wearing masks as COVID-19 cases rise

UI first-year student Abbie Thomas said she is not overly concerned about the new COVID-19 variant causing an increase in cases at the university.

“If it were to get out of hand on campus, I would consider wearing a mask to my classes, but I would continue to go to class, and my life would proceed in the usual way,” Thomas said.

To provide additional protection against these new variants, Miller said she advises Johnson County residents remain thoughtful in the way they live their lives, including continuing to wear masks, receiving vaccinations, and monitoring health and COVID-19 exposures.

“Not as many people as we would like have gotten their bivalent vaccine booster,” Miller said. “It’s not too late. Anybody who hasn’t gotten their newest booster, we would encourage them to do that.”