XBB.1.5: Michigan Surpasses 3M COVID Cases as New Variant Sweeps the U.S.  

Last year, reports of the pandemic’s “endemic” in sight are, seemingly, a distant memory, at least for now. 

While things are somewhat back to normal, Michigan now tops 3 million COVID cases (with nearly 42,000 confirmed and probable deaths) and a new variant of COVID, XBB.1.5, is making its rounds across the nation with numerous health concerns left in its wake.  

“People should not be surprised that there is a new variant. The more viruses replicate, the more they mutate,” Dr. Leana Wen told CNN in an interview. “Most mutations do not confer evolutionary advantage and won’t spread further, but some do.”  

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan’s MI Blues Perspectives posted that the SARS-CoV-2 virus is “constantly changing” and accumulating mutations in its genetic code over time. Variants will emerge and disappear, and many variants are circulating in the country today.  

However, this latest XBB.1.5 variant is in the Omicron family and appears to be the most transmissible form of the virus yet.  

Wen said that there are three “key questions” that need to be asked about the new variant and others that could come after it.  

“First, is it more contagious? Second, does it cause more serious disease? And third, is it more immune-evasive, meaning it undercuts the protection of existing vaccines and treatments?  

“The mutations XBB.1.5 has acquired have made it more contagious. A more transmissible strain has the evolutionary advantage that it will spread faster than others, and therefore could displace other strains. This is a trend seen throughout the coronavirus pandemic — new even more transmissible strains replacing their predecessors and becoming dominant.”  

The good news is that this strain doesn’t always appear to cause more severe disease thus far. It, like other Omicron descendants, is likely to cause less severe illness than the Delta variants that preceded Omicron, she added.  

In general, as the virus that causes COVID-19 continues to change and mutate, infections are becoming less severe over time.  

However, the virus circulating is still capable of causing severe illness including hospitalization and death. Additionally, the long-term impacts from COVID infections are still being studied.  

As the XBB.1.5 variant is more transmissible, health experts anticipate that COVID case rates will increase, and, as a result, death rates may also increase, Blue Cross noted.  

Keeping up to date with COVID vaccinations is the most effective protection from serious illness, hospitalization and death caused by COVID-19. Completing the first series of vaccinations for COVID-19, followed by the current booster schedule as recommended by the CDC, is essential. Newly released bivalent boosters protect against original strains of the virus as well as the Omicron variant.  

Updated bivalent booster shots are available for everyone aged five years and older. For children aged 6 months to four years who had the Moderna vaccine as their primary series, a booster dose is available two months after their last shot.  

Use the CDC’s online tool to find out when you need a booster, and which type of booster best fits your status. Visit cdc.gov/coronavirus and click the “COVID-19 Vaccines & Boosters” button for more information.  

Individuals who are immunocompromised or live with chronic illnesses, or who have family members at a higher risk for severe illness from infection, may want to consider taking additional preventive measures, including masking in public places and reducing exposure to large crowds.  

With much activity concentrated indoors during the winter months, and the increased likelihood of COVID transmission with the XBB.1.5 variant, some Michigan workplaces and schools are returning to some preventive protocols, such as masking and social distancing. 

The CDC continues to recommend the following guidance on preventing the spread of COVID-19 

  • Avoiding contact with others who are sick, especially those who are sick with COVID  
  • Following CDC guidelines if you have been exposed  
  • Getting tested for COVID  
  • Improving ventilation indoors  
  • Seeking treatment for COVID if you are at a high risk of severe illness  
  • Staying home if you are sick  
  • Staying up to date on COVID shots  

For some already facing health challenges, COVID infections are all the more serious, especially for the elderly and those most susceptible.   

Rates of COVID cases and deaths among nursing home residents and staff nationwide increased sharply in December, while most residents and staff nationwide are still not up to date on their COVID-19 vaccinations, according to AARP’s Nursing Home COVID-19 Dashboard.  

Nationwide, it’s estimated that tragically more than 175,000 residents and staff of nursing homes have died due to COVID-19.  

Per the Dashboard, rates of COVID-19 cases among nursing home residents nationwide increased 57 percent in the four weeks ending December 18, compared to the previous four weeks. There was also a 53 percent increase in staff cases during the same period. Here in Michigan, resident cases are up by 21.5 percent in the four weeks ending December 18, compared to the previous four weeks, with staff cases up nearly 9 percent during the same period.  

The new data also shows most nursing home residents and staff are also not up to date on their vaccinations.   

“Nursing homes must prioritize steps to increase up-to-date vaccination rates among residents and staff,” said Paula D. Cunningham, state director of AARP, which serves more than 1.2 million members age 50 and older in Michigan. “Family members can play a role too, keeping their loved ones safe by engaging with facility management and staff and asking the right questions about vaccination rates.”  

Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, an infectious disease specialist in Ann Arbor, told the Michigan Chronicle previously that although most people with COVID-19 get better within weeks of illness, some people experience post-COVID conditions.     

“Post-COVID conditions are a wide range of new, returning or ongoing health problems people can experience four or more weeks after first being infected with the virus that causes COVID-19. Even people who did not have COVID-19 symptoms in the days or weeks after they were infected can have post-COVID conditions,” she said. “These conditions can present as different types and combinations of health problems for different lengths of time.”  



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