COVID in California: Fast-moving subvariant now accounts for 4 in 10 U.S. cases – San Francisco Chronicle

The highly infectious XBB.1.5 subvariant of the coronavirus is picking up steam in the West on the heels of sweeping across the Northeast, CDC data show. The CDC is also tracking virus hospitalizations, with its new combined dashboard showing COVID, flu and RSV admissions  remain on a downward trend since the recent peak in December. 

Highly infectious omicron subvariant accounts for more than 4 in 10 cases in U.S.

The fast-moving XBB.1.5 strain now accounts for just under 16% of coronavirus cases in the western region of the United States, which includes California, more than doubling in one week as a proportion of COVID circulating, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Saturday. The subvariant’s prevalence in the West has not caught up to its dominance in the Northeast, but rose significantly in the West from 7.6% of cases on Jan. 7. Nationwide,  XBB.1.5 — a highly transmissable iteration of the omicron variant — accounted for 43% of cases in the most recent data, compared to just under 28% the prior week. The BQ.1.1 subavariant still is most dominant in the West region accounting for 39% of cases.

The World Health Organization has labelled the XBB.1.5 subvariant the “most transmissible” variant yet, and urges travelers to wear masks on international flights to help slow its spread.

West Virginia governor tests positive for 2nd time

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice tested positive for the coronavirus Tuesday, hours after he met with West Virginia University athletic director Wren Baker and Hall of Fame basketball coach Bob Huggins, the governor’s office said. It marked the second time that the Republican governor tested positive, following a positive result in January 2022, the Associated Press reports.  The 71-year-old Justice, who is fully vaccinated and boosted against the virus, had a sudden onset of mild symptoms. He was isolating at home and was under the care of several physicians, the governor’s office said in a statement.

New dashboards track combined U.S. virus hospitalizations, underscore downward trend

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday launched two new dashboards to track respiratory virus trends nationally. The Respiratory Virus Hospitalization Surveillance Network tracks laboratory-confirmed hospitalizations associated with COVID-19, influenza, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). It uses data from a network of acute care hospitals in 13 states covering more than 29 million people and includes an estimated 8-10% of the U.S. population. The second site provides a combined view of emergency department visit data for multiple respiratory conditions. Both dashboards show that virus-related admissions for the season peaked in early December and are currently on a downward trend.

House panel to hold hearing Feb. 1 on COVID fraud

The newly Republican-led House Oversight and Accountability Committee will hold a Feb. 1 hearing into waste and fraud involving the millions of dollars in aid the government has dispensed to help people who lost work due to the pandemic, the Washington Post reports. The committee is seeking to learn how much was scammed from the unemployment insurance program. The new committee chairman, Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., said the committee will be exploring “hundreds of billions of dollars in spending under the guise of pandemic relief.”

A Washington Post investigation found that government efforts to aid Americans who lost work during the pandemic opened the door for as much as $163 billion in fraudulent or mistaken payments.. Comer has sent a letters to the Labor Department and its top watchdogs, to understand the extent of the misspending, the Post reported, and he pressed California, New York and Pennsylvania to turn over records related to their administration of federal unemployment benefits, citing cases where states paid out benefits to suspected.

Florida governor moves to permanently ban mask, vaccine mandates

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Tuesday said he is seeking in the coming legislative session to permanently ban COVID-19 vaccination, masking, and vaccine passport requirements in his state. Appearing in Panama City Beach alongside Florida Surgeon Gen. Dr. Joseph Ladapo, the governor said the legislation “will permanently protect Floridians from losing their jobs due to COVID-19 vaccine mandates, protects parents’ rights, and institutes additional protections that prevent discrimination based on COVID-19 vaccine status,” WFLA reports. The proposal also supports “freedom of speech” for medical professionals, unlike the California rule specifically restricting the spread of misinformation by physicians.

“We need to lead with this by making all of these protections permanent in Florida statute which we are going to do in the upcoming legislative session,” DeSantis said. The Florida Supreme Court recently approved DeSantis’ petition to investigate alleged harms as a result of the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna. “We are going to work to hold these manufacturers accountable for this mRNA [vaccine] because they said there was no side effects, and we know that there have been, and there have been a lot,” DeSantis said at a private event in December.