New COVID-19 strain creating an increase in infection rates

Known as XBB 1.5, the strain is helping cause coronavirus infection rates rise once again.
Published: Jan. 10, 2023 at 8:55 AM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - A new COVID strain is spreading across the country and it’s known as one of the most transmissible forms of the Omicron variant to date. Known as XBB 1.5, the strain is helping cause coronavirus infection rates to rise once again.

This variant has gone from almost non-existent in December to now being one of the largest causes of infection. The CDC says North Carolina has the second highest new cases in the past week, with nearly 43,000 positive infections. The number one state is California with approximately 55,000 cases.

With an increase in illness being seen in many parts of the country, health experts encourage practicing social distancing, washing hands and wearing masks in certain areas.

“We have to keep hitting home those same messages. We’re somewhat creatures of habit and we’re stubborn as well. We’re human beings. We just have to be mindful, especially this time of year to keep our hands clean, keep them out of our face and do what we need to do to stay healthy,” said Travis Greer, health educator for Brunswick County Health Services.

Greer also said to stay up to date with vaccines and boosters and to get tested if you think you have been exposed.

One month ago, the infection rate for XBB 1.5 was less than 10% nationwide. Data estimates predict that rate to climb to 27.6% as data comes in from the first week of January. A major factor in play is group gatherings, especially during the holidays. As we head into the middle of winter, people are likely to continue heading indoors for almost everything, from dining to sporting events. Greer has safety suggestions when big groups gather inside.

“Keep your air ventilation system on, there’s a setting where it’s an auto function where it just fluctuates the temperature based on what you need, but there’s a setting where you can keep the fan on. If you have a HVAC system with air filters, that can help filter some of the various particles in the air depending on what type of air filter you may have,” said Greer.

More ways to stay safe while in a large group indoors are to open the windows to allow fresh air flow, wear a mask inside and stay home if you don’t feel well.

The COVID-19 Community Level for Bladen, Brunswick, Columbus, New Hanover and Pender counties is considered high, so it’s important to protect yourself now.

As a reminder, you can still order free at-home COVID tests through the government here. It’s an easy process that takes less than five minutes and you’ll have those tests at home when you need them.