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New Covid Variant Just Dropped, Happy New Year Everyone

A brown-haired woman adjusts a surgical mask.

Despite what you might have heard, Covid is very much alive and well. Now it has a new variant: Omicron sublineage XBB.1.5.

According to CNN, 41% of new Covid infections in the United States in December were caused by the new variant. Maria Van Kerkhove, the lead for the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 response, called XBB.1.5 “the most transmissible form of Omicron to date.”

XBB.1.5 was first discovered in the U.S., but it has since spread to 29 countries. However, Kerkhove stresses that the countermeasures already being taken against Covid—namely masks, vaccinations, rapid tests, and air filtration systems—should still be effective against the new variant. “We do expect further waves of infection around the world, but that doesn’t have to translate into further waves of death because our countermeasures continue to work,” Kerkhove said.

Researchers don’t yet know if XBB.1.5 causes more severe illness than other Covid variants.

In a Twitter thread, White House Covid-19 response coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha shared more details about the variant. One thing Jha stressed was that the best protection against XBB.1.5 is the bivalent booster that many received in September. If you didn’t get boosted, Jha warns, “you likely have very little protection against infection.”

Jha also outlines some basic safety measures you can take against Covid, including getting the booster, testing before you visit people, and wearing a high-quality mask indoors.

Now that we’re going into year 3 of the Covid era and many regions have dropped mask mandates and other precautions, it can be tempting to treat Covid like any other cold or flu. But with Covid, Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and the seasonal flu all going around at the same time, it’s still critical to practice basic safety precautions. Does wearing a mask and living in fear suck? Yes. It sucks hard, and we all hate it, and we all wish this whole thing was over. But it doesn’t suck as much as getting seriously ill, or dying, or infecting someone who’s immunocompromised and watching them get seriously ill and possibly die. There’s an order of suckage in these days of Covid, and we can do things that suck in order to prevent other things that are even worse.

Mask up, get boosted, and make sure you’ve got some tests on hand. Welcome to 2023.

(featured image: Polina Tankilevitch via Pexels.com)

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Julia Glassman (she/her) lives in Los Angeles, where she reads tarot and watches Marvel movies. You can check out more of her writing at linktr.ee/juliaglassman, or find her on Twitter at @juliaglassman.