'Highly transmissible' COVID-19 subvariant officially detected in Travis County

The new COVID-19 omicron subvariant XBB.1.5 has been identified 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. 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows that XBB.1.5 now accounts for 27.6% of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. 

XBB.1.5 contains more mutations capable of evading immunity than any other variant.

"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.

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. 

5 things to know about the omicron XBB subvariant:

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

If you would like to receive a flu and COVID-19 vaccine, click here.