COVID-19: New variant, same message

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graphic image of covid virus with the words "COVID-19 UPDATE"

A few weeks ago we reported that Omicron subvariant XBB.1.16 had become the predominant COVID-19 variant across Oregon and the United States, making up 14.8% of all cases nationally at that time. As of last week, another subvariant—Omicron EG.5—has taken over as the country’s predominant strain, accounting for 17.3% of COVID-19 cases nationally, though it is not predominant in Oregon at this time. This variant is one of many evolutions of previous Omicron strains and is not expected to behave differently than other circulating variants.

“This kind of change is normal and expected as the virus that causes COVID-19 continues to evolve,” said Dr. Dean Sidelinger, OHA state health officer and state epidemiologist. “But our message to Oregonians remains the same. Our current tools—vaccinations and well-fitting masks—will continue to protect us. Individuals should stay up to date with recommended COVID-19 vaccines, especially those at higher risk for severe disease and those who live with someone at higher risk, and receive the new, updated vaccine beginning next month as recommended. Well-fitting masks worn in indoor crowded settings also offer protection to the person wearing the mask as well as those they return home to.”

The new, updated COVID-19 vaccine, expected to be available in September, will target the Omicron XBB strain, and because EG.5 is an offspring of XBB, the new vaccine should provide decent protection against severe disease from EG.5. Once the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorizes it, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will finalize recommendations for who should receive it and when.

We’ve seen a small increase in the COVID-19 hospitalization rate, in Oregon and the U.S., which is primarily affecting individuals 65 and older. CDC forecasts do not predict a significant increase in COVID-19-related hospitalizations in Oregon in the short term.

OHA monitors COVID-19 activity in our community using percent positivity and wastewater levels.

  • Percent positivity in Oregon has been rising throughout the summer and currently sits at 10.7%. There is more COVID-19 circulating in Oregon now than in the spring, but circulation was at an all-time low in the spring, and overall transmission remains modest.
  • Wastewater levels are not showing dramatic increases or decreases in transmission in most communities; rather transmission is relatively stable. So while we have seen increases in transmission over time, they have not been sudden or dramatic.

COVID-19 will continue to circulate in our communities, and you can monitor COVID-19 activity in Oregon on Oregon’s Respiratory Virus Data dashboards.

To monitor the activity of COVID-19 strains, follow the CDC’s variant tracker for national and regional data, and OHA’s variant dashboard for state data.