(WWLP) – A new Omicron subvariant, XBB, is sweeping through the Northeast, quickly becoming the dominant strain in our region.

Roughly a year after the Omicron variant was first detected, it’s subvariant XBB now spreading rapidly throughout New England. It began circulating among all cases in November. According to the CDC, this subvariant now makes up more than 50% of COVID cases in the region.

22News spoke with Dr. Armando Paez, the Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Baystate, who explain why the spread of XBB is cause for concern, “What it means most likely is that it can invade the immunity from either prior infections and even from vaccinations, so most likely if you’re going to be exposed to it, you may get infected.”

However, recent data from the CDC does not indicate that this variant is making people more sick than other variants. Overall, COVID hospitalizations are on the rise throughout the country.
But areas like the Northeast that are experiencing high levels of XBB, are not seeing a disproportionate increase in hospitalizations.

Right now, this XBB variant makes up more than forty-percent of covid-19 cases herein the United States. And more specifically in northeastern states– that number is now up much higher to around 75%. Dr. DelPilar-Morales recommends continuing the health practices of masking, social distancing & especially receiving up-to-date vaccines.

“The bivalent vaccine that has the omicron-specific variants does protect well against this one. not as well as other omicron variants but it’s still good,” Dr. DelPilar-Morales told 22News.

And that’s just what people here in Western Massachusetts told 22news they intend to do.

“I went and got the last booster they had,” said Bill Harington from West Springfield.

“Stay at home and come out when I need to,” said Cheryl James from West Springfield.

The Springfield Board of Health today recommended a non-mandatory mask advisory out of an abundance of caution as this subvariant continues to circulate in our area. XBB is spreading faster in New England than other parts of the country. Nationally, the strain makes up less than 20 percent of cases.

For those heading to New Year’s Eve celebrations in the northeast, Dr. Paez offers the following advice, “Particularly indoors, I recommend to wear a mask.”

The majority of the Commonwealth reside in areas of medium risk for COVID-19. Hampshire and Hampden Counties are classified in the low-risk category.