XBB.1.5: The Plague Returns...Or Not.
A good part of the corporate media’s fear porn has been centered on China’s seemingly massive COVID outbreak amidst the ending (or is it the collapse?) of Xi Jinping’s Zero COVID policy.
Yet another part of the corporate media has been turning its attention to recombinant variant XBB.1.5, and its apparently inexorable rise to dominance here in the United States.
Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King's College London, highlighted an Omicron variant after a scientist said cases had more than doubled in America in a week.
More than 40% of COVID cases in the US are now caused by the XBB.1.5 variant, according to data from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from Friday.
XBB1.5, an offshoot of XBB, which arose from a recombination of BA.2.101 and BA.2.75, is worrisome to virologists because of its significant capacity for immune evasion.
Certainly, to hear the corporate media tell the tale, XBB.1.5 is cause for alarm, as where it is dominant COVID hospitalizations have risen.
Or have they?
The CDC hospitalization data leaves plenty of room for doubt. Consider the case of New York—in particular, the population epicenter of New York City, Kings County.
Per the CDC, hospitalizations have indeed been rising of late, but since mid-December new hospital admissions have been declining in Kings County.
However, at the time new hospital admissions began trending down in King’s County, XBB.1.5 was making its greatest advances in terms of the percentage of cases.
On the other hand, in Boston, Massachusetts (located in Suffolk County), the rise of XBB.1.5 does seem to parallel a rise in hospitalizations—sort of.
However, again per the CDC, the uptick in new hospitalizations in Suffolk County began in the middle of November, well before XBB.1.5 made significant inroads in that part of the country.
On the other side of the country, XBB.1.5 is not gaining anywhere near the same foothold. In HHS region 9, XBB.1.5 is losing out to both BQ.1 and BQ.1.1.
Thus the recent rises in hospitalizations in Los Angeles County, California, cannot be attributed to XBB.1.5.
In HHS Region 5, XBB.1.5 is also losing ground to BQ.1 and BQ.1.1
Which means again the rise in new hospitalizations in Chicago (Cook County), Illinois, cannot be attributed to XBB.1.5.
In each of these regions, XBB.1.5 cannot be conclusively tied to the rise in new hospitalizations.
In New York City the variant rose while hospitalizations fell.
In Boston the rise in hospitalizations preceded the emergence of XBB.1.5
In Los Angeles and Chicago XBB.1.5 couldn’t keep up with BQ.1 and BQ.1.1.
Even in China’s massive outbreak, XBB.1 lineages are not the most prevalent in China’s genome submissions to GISAID.
The real measure of a pathogen is not whether it can technically infect many people, but whether it can make them very ill. This is why new hospitalizations is a key metric for gauging a virus’ disease potential. The more severe the disease, the more there will be new hospital admits. Without new hospital admits, it is well nigh impossible for any pathogen to cause a serious disease, at least from a public health perspective.
The data does not indicate that XBB.1.5 is causing severe disease. The new hospital admit trends simply are not there.
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