DETROIT – The latest COVID-19 strain to make its way around the U.S. is becoming the nation’s most dominant strain, and is beginning to spread throughout Michigan.
The XBB.1.5 COVID variant is responsible for around 70% of new virus infections in the U.S., especially on the East Coast in the New York and New Jersey areas, according to Dr. Dennis Cunningham, director of infection control and prevention at Henry Ford Health. The variant has reached Michigan, but isn’t as widespread in the state as it is elsewhere.
In a news conference on Jan. 18, Cunningham said Michigan is behind the curve, as the XBB.1.5 strain currently accounts for less than 20% of new COVID cases in the state as of Jan. 18. However, the doctor says the variant is expected to become the dominant strain in Michigan in the coming weeks, likely reaching the 70% threshold currently seen on the East Coast.
You can watch Wednesday’s entire news briefing in the video player down below.
According to Cunningham, every COVID variant is different, but often times what they’re seeing on the East Coast usually reaches Michigan in about 4-6 weeks. The XBB.1.5 variant specifically was first seen in China, then it spread across the world, reaching the eastern U.S. first, he said.
It’s important to note that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of COVID variants around the world, Cunningham said, but “most of them are not very significant.” The XBB.1.5 variant has caused a slight uptick in virus-related deaths and hospitalizations on the East Coast, but nothing drastic like we first saw earlier in the pandemic.
Still, Cunningham says that Michiganders shouldn’t get too relaxed, as he expects COVID cases to rise in the state as the XBB.1.5 variant becomes more common.
According to the CDC, compared to other variants, the XBB.1.5 variant attaches more tightly to a receptor that allows viruses to enter a cell.
Another variant of concern at this time is the omicron BF.7 strain, which is believed to be driving the current COVID surge in China. This strain is in the U.S., and reportedly accounted for about 2% of cases at the beginning of the month.
Variants will continue to emerge as COVID-19 continues to mutate and spread around the globe. Dr. Cunningham said Wednesday that COVID is not going away anytime soon, but that the vaccines still prove to protect people from serious illness when infected with the virus.
A new, “universal” COVID vaccine that would hypothetically work against all strains of the virus is in trial right now -- but Cunningham said it is not here yet, and it is unclear if it will even work.
Here’s the Henry Ford Health news briefing: