Suffolk County’s COVID risk has jumped back up to “high,” according to the CDC as the new highly contagious XBB.1.5 omicron variant spreads across the region and hospitalizations rise after the holidays.
Boston health officials are pleading with residents to take precautions amid the post-holiday surge, urging people to mask up and get boosted.
The CDC recently elevated Suffolk County’s COVID community risk level from medium to high. This comes following a spike in the Boston-area COVID wastewater levels and as reported virus cases climb and hospitalizations increase.
More than 70% of new COVID cases in New England are tied to the XBB.1.5 subvariant, according to the CDC’s latest variant tracker update.
“We are seeing a new rise in cases and a new variant that appears to be very transmissible,” said Matthew Fox, a Boston University School of Public Health epidemiology professor. “In light of this we need to fall back on the things we know work.
“Most important is making sure everyone is up to date on their boosters or if unvaccinated, get vaccinated,” Fox said. “Group settings should consider bringing back masking for the period of the surge. And as always we should be investing in good ventilation.”
The Boston-area COVID wastewater levels have surged amid the holiday season, and that is the first sign of a virus wave.
COVID hospitalizations have been climbing across Massachusetts. Through late last week, Boston’s hospitals reported 306 new COVID-related hospitalizations — which is a 41% increase over the past two weeks.
“Based on the trends, it is imperative that we all protect ourselves and others,” said Bisola Ojikutu, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission. “I understand there’s a very high level of pandemic fatigue, but the numbers speak for themselves.
“We should all be masking indoors, staying home when sick, and testing for COVID-19,” Ojikutu added. “In addition, getting boosted is the best way to protect yourself from severe illness and hospitalization.”
Boston’s hospitals are already under increased strain due to the combination of COVID and other respiratory viral infections, including the flu.
Only 13.7% of Boston residents have received the omicron-specific bivalent booster. The Boston Public Health Commission has set up several sites where residents can get COVID vaccines and boosters, flu shots, and PCR testing for COVID.
As part of the state’s Vaccine Equity Initiative, BPHC is offering $75 gift cards to those who get a COVID vaccine or booster while supplies last. Those sites include: Boston City Hall; BCYF Hyde Park; Lena Park Community Development Corporation; Josephine Fiorentino Community Center; and Bruce C. Bolling Building.