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New COVID-19 Strain Emerges

A new COVID-19 variant called XBB.1.5 surges on the east coast. According to the World Health Organization, the variant is likely to be more transmissible than the previous variants due to its immune evasiveness. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the new variant accounts for 43% of new cases, with most  located in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions of the United States. 

While it is rumored that XBB.1.5 has likely made it to the Midwest, it’s unclear whether current hospitalizations are due to the novel strain. As of Jan. 18, the South Dakota Department of Health reported that there have been 12 deaths and 57 total hospitalizations statewide, with no reported cases in Clay County at this time. 

The CDC report states that XBB.1.5 accounts for 18.8% of COVID-19 cases in Health and Human Services Region 8, which includes South Dakota and other western states such as North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming. The novel variant in Region 1 accounts for around 86.8% of cases, which includes states such as New York and New Jersey. . “COVID-19 is beginning to become endemic, it’s here at the background level for the foreseeable future,” head of USD’s COVID-19 management team Kevin O’Kelley said. 

The lack of testing makes the virus harder to track, but it has now become less of an immediate issue, O’Kelley said. Currently, there are no reported cases on the USD campus. 

The USD COVID-19 management team is currently disbanded, but measures are still in place should campus see a spike in cases. O’Kelley is on standby if his role as head of this department is needed in the future. As of now, he is working as vice president of Research Compliance for the university. 

“We are concerned.  We still encourage self-testing, those that are sick to remain home and to get vaccinated for influenza and COVID-19,” O’Kelley said. 

If in doubt, O’Kelley recommends referencing the CDC guidelines. Currently, at home COVID-19 test kits are available for free at the MUC, North Complex, Slagle Hall, Lee Medicine 101 and Student Health Services. 

“Humans are very adaptable and we’ve dealt with the pandemic as a team,” O’Kelley said.