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ALABAMA (WHNT) — For months, respiratory viruses like RSV and the flu have had a stronghold on the entire country — but those viruses seem to be dwindling as COVID-19 shows signs of another surge.

A new, fast-spreading Omicron subvariant called XBB.1.5 is estimated to account for 40 percent of the COVID-19 cases for the week ending January 14, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH).

Dr. Wes Stubblefield with ADPH warned that the emerging subvariant has been rising very quickly across the state with hospitalizations tripling since the holiday season.

“We have seen pretty steady levels of COVID over the past four to six weeks,” noted Stubblefield. “We are continuing to see deaths from COVID-19 recorded on a weekly basis. Our percent positivity from our specimens has come down from a high of about 23 percent. Right now, we are reporting about 13 percent, but that’s up from around 4 percent just a couple of months ago.” 

Dr. Raj Palraj with The Mayo Clinic told News 19 the XBB.1.5 variant is not known to be more severe than other variants, but the levels are high on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) map for almost all counties in Alabama. 

“What we are learning about this new variant XBB.1.5 is that it spreads much more easily compared to the previous variants and [is] almost like twice as likely to spread compared to the previous variants,” said Palraj.

As families gathered for the holidays in smaller spaces, infections and hospitalization numbers surpassed last summer. Stubblefield noted that seniors are being hit particularly hard. 

“On top of that, variants continue to be more and more contagious, and it just sets the stage for respiratory illnesses for some elderly COVID patients,” he said. “Those being both influenzas, covid and RSV all of which we’ve seen over the past few months.” 

Stubblefield added that we are at a point where most COVID-19 deaths are preventable, and vaccines remain the single most important tool to protect people against severe COVID-19 illness and hospitalization.