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Doctors: New Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5 responsible for 75% of new COVID cases in Northeast

New COVID subvariant responsible for majority of northeast infections
New COVID subvariant responsible for majority of northeast infections 01:59

NEW YORK -- It's a new year and a new COVID-19 subvariant is dominating medical headlines.

The new mutation is responsible for a majority of infections in the Northeast.

CBS2 spoke to doctors on Tuesday on what you need to know.

CDC tracking new COVID variant 03:37

So far, 2023 has started off much the same way as its predecessor, with a new COVID strain rapidly gaining dominance and concerns about another wave.

"I have a grandmother at home that is immunocompromised, and I feel like people should still be wearing their masks," said a woman from Washington Heights.

"Another friend of mine, who is also extremely careful, she and her daughter caught it," added Missy Perry of New Jersey.

READ MOREHow to diagnose the flu and COVID-19 as doctors brace for a surge of cases after the holidays

According to the Centers for Disease Control, a new Omicron subvariant called XBB.1.5 accounts for almost 41% of confirmed cases nationwide, nearly doubling from 22% around Christmas Eve.

In the Northeast, the mutation makes up about 75% of new cases.

"What is concerning about this subvariant is it has specific mutations that make it very transmissible. So it's very easy to catch it. And when you have more people getting sick, you have more hospitalizations," said Dr. Nidhi Kumar, a cardiovascular disease specialist.

Doctors say so far XBB doesn't appear to cause severe respiratory illness. Even though the number of infections is nothing like the tsunami of illness caused by the original Omicron variant a year ago, physicians are urging families to stay current on vaccinations. Jack Samic of Ohio said he just got his booster.

"I know someone whose best friend died from COVID a year and a half ago. For some people, it's very serious," Samic said.

READ MORECDC urges Americans to "reconsider" travel to China over COVID surge, will require tests

In New York City, only 15% of adults have received the bivalent dose. Dr. Bruce Y. Lee, a CUNY professor of health policy and management, says at a minimum, half the population should be protected.

"We have to remember that vaccines aren't just individual interventions. They are also population-level interventions. So it does matter how many people around you are actually vaccinated, as well," Lee said.

Doctors say face coverings also remain very effective, reducing the risk of transmission by 70%. 

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