OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — A new COVID-19 sub-variant known as XBB 1.5 is now spreading across the country and it is now considered the most transmissible subvariant detected in the pandemic so far.
3 News Now spoke to a local expert who called the situation ahead daunting. So what does this mean for our community?
"Most calculations would put it at least three times as transmissible. So it spreads three times faster and three times easier through a populations than the original virus," said Doctor James Lawler, UNMC.
With the ability to infect people more easily, Lawler says he is concerned about this new COVID variant.
"Our hospitals here are full. Hospitals here have actually been boarding patients in the emergency department because there are unable to find beds on regular wards and that is before we see this surge of XBB 1.5," he said.
Lawler says he expects this variant to hit Nebraska by the end of January.
"I think we are going to get a lot of cases once XBB 1.5. becomes the predominant virus floating around Nebraska," he said.
Lawler says COVID has plateaued in the community over the last few months, but there is an infrequency of testing.
"Our testing rates are as low as they were in May of 2020. In terms of PCR where we actually get that information," said Lawler.
He says many at-home tests aren't reported and some don't test at all, which means many COVID cases go undetected.
"It is probably the case that at least 20 community cases occur for every detected county case we have, and the ratio is potentially a bit more than that," he said.
Lawler says it is important to follow the guidelines we have been hearing since the beginning of the pandemic.
"If everybody is wearing a mask indoors it reduces the amount of shedding, so there is less virus floating around in the air and then it also protects you from inhaling the virus in those environments,"
Nationwide the vaccination rate is low. Lawler says less than 40% of seniors are up to date with the bivalent booster vaccine.
"Really one of the most important factors is recency of vaccination. The more recently you have been vaccinated, the more effective that vaccine is going to be," he said.
Beyond this new variant, he says we need to be thinking about the variant that comes next.
“We need to do much, much better if we are going to protect our communities against a dramatic surge in our hospital system," said Lawler.