Will COVID-19 XBB.1.5 variant gain dominance in Arizona?

Published: Wednesday, January 11, 2023 - 1:43pm
Updated: Friday, January 13, 2023 - 10:58am
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An extremely contagious COVID-19 omicron sub-variant known as XBB.1.5 has been gaining dominance on the East Coast. A few cases have turned up in Arizona recently, too.

The lab TGen North has been sequencing COVID-19 in Arizona. The lab reports it started seeing XBB.1.5 cases in Arizona in December.

"We've only seen a handful," said Dr. David Engelthaler, director of the pathogen genomics division at TGen North. "Over the last several weeks we've only seen three." 

For now, Engelthaler said an omicron sub-variant known as BQ accounts for the majority of COVID-19 cases in the state. But he expects to see XBB.1.5 outcompete other strains of the virus quickly. 

“It’s very good at evading our antibodies either from vaccines or previous infections, so there’s really nothing stopping it," Engelthaler said. 

But Engelthaler said this new strain of the virus does not appear to be any more dangerous than its predecessors, so even if it infects more Arizonans, he doubts it will lead to a large uptick in hospitalizations or deaths.

"We’re not really expecting those to rise much,” Engelthaler said. "Right now the trends do look good." 

The Arizona Department of Health Services did report a slight increase in overall COVID-19 cases this week. But COVID-19 hospital utilization rates in the state are currently below the national average, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Engelthaler said it’s still important for Arizonans to get up-to-date on vaccines, and to avoid spreading the virus to vulnerable populations.

Coronavirus Science