Friday, January 6, 2023

New Highly Transmissible COVID-19 Subvariant Detected in Austin-Travis County


A steady rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations has elevated Travis County’s Community Level to medium. At this level, Austin Public Health’s (APH) Risk-Based Guidelines advise masking in many circumstances. Additionally, a new omicron subvariant XBB.1 has been reported in variant surveillance samples from the Travis County area.

"This new subvariant is making its way into our community right as many people were indoors gathering with others during the cold and over the holidays. When mixed with a flu infection, the combination can cause serious illness for those at-risk such as children and seniors," said Dr. Desmar Walkes, Austin-Travis County Health Authority. "It’s important that we do what we know works to minimize spread. Got symptoms? Get tested. Stay home if you don't feel well. Wear a mask if you can’t keep your distance to protect those who are at high risk. Most importantly, get up to date with your COVID-19 vaccines."

APH has not detected omicron subvariant XBB.1.5 in Travis County wastewater samples, though it has been reported in other parts of Texas and throughout the country. Considering the rate of spread, detection is expected in Travis County soon.

The values of key metrics used to determine Community Level in Travis County are (as of Friday, Jan. 6):

  • COVID-19 cases per 100K: 141
  • COVID-19 hospital admissions per 100K: 10.3
  • COVID-19 inpatient bed utilization: 3.6

Travis County reached the Community Level medium threshold once the rate of COVID-19-related hospital admissions surpassed 10. That metric was 5.4 last week—meaning admissions have almost doubled. Travis County’s Community Level has been low since August 2022.

"We need to avoid another surge," said APH Director Adrienne Sturrup. "Our hospitals are treating patients with COVID-19, flu and various upper respiratory illnesses right now. If you have already resolved to prioritize your health with a healthier diet, or more physical activity in this new year, add getting vaccinated to your list. If you are already vaccinated, get your booster. Protect yourself and loved ones who are at high risk of severe illness."

5 things to know about the omicron XBB subvariant:

  1. XBB is a sublineage of omicron.
  2. XBB is rapidly replacing prior subvariants in the U.S.
  3. Bivalent boosters still provide a level of protection and reduce your chance of hospitalization.
  4. XBB is resistant to existing COVID-19 treatments such as monoclonal infusions, which is concerning for those who are immunocompromised.
  5. XBB symptoms are like those of other COVID-19 variants, including cough, congestion, exhaustion, fever, sore throat, nausea, diarrhea and headaches.

Vaccine Providers   

Visit Vaccines.gov (Vacunas.gov in Spanish) to find flu and COVID-19 vaccine providers near you.      

Free COVID-19 tests  

Free mail-order rapid antigen test kits are available once again through covid.gov/tests. Households are eligible for another round of four tests for a limited time.  

At-home COVID-19 test kits are available at APH Neighborhood Centers while supplies last. The U.S. Department of Health and Humans Services also lists community-based testing sites online.   

Free masks (N-95 respirators)   

Use the CDC’s mask-locator tool to find pharmacies near you that provide free masks (N-95 respirators). It does not show current inventories, so check with the location for availability.  

Severe Winds Pose New Threats to Power Lines

  City of Austin Winter Weather Morning Status Update - Feb. 7  A fresh bout of bad weather expected overnight Tuesday and early Wednesday m...