Home tests, new variant brings uncertain times with pandemic

A microscopic image of the Covid-19 virus via the Centers for Disease Control’s website.

Berkshire County — Public health official Jill Sweet from the Tri-Town Health Department believes that residents should be concerned about the COVID variant XBB.1.5. According to the World Health Organization, the variant was originally detected in October and, due to its prevalence, infection cases have increased in the United States.

Some media outlets have quoted health officials as stating that the XBB.1.5 has the potential to drive a new surge in COVID cases. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), data as of December 30 shows that the XBB.1.5 variant is projected to make up 40.5 percent of COVID cases nationwide and that, while it may be more transmissible than other variants, the CDC does not know if it causes severe disease.

According to the CDC’s data tracker website, from January 1 to January 7, the XBB.1.5 variant made up 71.6 percent of new COVID cases in the northeast region consisting of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, Rhode Island, Vermont, and New Hampshire.

As of Thursday, January 5, the CDC’s website lists Berkshire County’s COVID level as “medium,” which means that if a person is at high risk of getting sick, they are advised to wear a high-quality mask or respirator when indoors in public. It also advises residents to get tested for COVID if they have household members or are in social contact with someone who is at high risk of getting sick.

COVID community levels explained via the Centers for Disease Control’s website.

According to the CDC, there were a total of 204 new COVID cases in Berkshire County last week. Sweet told The Berkshire Edge, however, that the reported amount of cases may be inaccurate. “There’s a lot of home testing going on, and we don’t have access to those numbers,” Sweet said. “When you test at home, and if you test positive, there is no requirement to report it.”

Sweet said that the uptick in reported cases may be due to the holiday season when people and families gather together. “We’ll see whether or not the number of reported cases will come down,” Sweet said. “It’s hard to say, especially with this new variant.” During her interview, Sweet repeated several times that the new XBB.1.5 variant brings a level of uncertainty to the pandemic. “I don’t think there is a need to panic yet,” Sweet said. “But I do think people should mask up if they are going somewhere and they don’t feel comfortable in a crowded public situation.”

Meanwhile, the CDC lists that 80.6 percent of Berkshire County, 100,695 residents, have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine. Approximately 63.5 percent of the total Berkshire County population, approximately 79,383 residents, have completed the primary series of COVID vaccinations. Statewide, 90 percent of residents have completed the primary series of Covid vaccinations.

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