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Health Alert: COVID-19 Subvariant of Concern Omicron XBB.1.5; Boosters Urged

(Ithaca, N.Y., January 19, 2023) – Tompkins County Whole Health is alerting the community of the newly circulating COVID-19 subvariant Omicron XBB.1.5 and providing guidance on reducing risk.

The newest COVID-19 Omicron subvariant is highly contagious and its spread has been noted across New York State. Currently, of all COVID-19 cases in NYS that have been sequenced, 55% have been XBB.1.5. While Tompkins County remains in a “Low Community Spread” level per CDC standards, caution is advised for our community, particularly for those most vulnerable to severe illness.

Tompkins County, along with many other areas across the country, has seen an increase in hospitalizations and deaths in the past few weeks, with hospitalization rates marked as being at their highest for this winter season. Hospitalization rates demonstrate the severity of illness caused by this subvariant, particularly among those who are immunocompromised and adults ages 65 and older. Among those hospitalized for severe illness, those with current COVID-19 boosters report quicker recovery time and are less likely to have severe complications resulting in death. Data now indicates that people who received a COVID-19 booster were more than 18 times less likely to die from COVID-19 and three times less likely to be infected than unvaccinated people.

Vaccination is the best protection against COVID-19 — it protects not only you but also limits the spread of illness to your loved ones and others. Everyone ages 6 months and older is eligible for a bivalent booster.

Currently, only 29% of Tompkins County residents who have received a full series of their primary COVID-19 vaccination have also received a bivalent booster. Moderna and Pfizer boosters for all age groups are more readily available locally. To schedule an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccine, call your primary care provider or schedule with a local pharmacy. You can also use the Vaccine Finder to find a location near you. If you need assistance in scheduling an appointment online, dial 211 to speak with their helpline.

Dr. William Klepack, TCWH Medical Director stated, “It is imperative to stay up to date on vaccination to prevent severe illness, hospitalization and death. COVID-19 boosters are effective at reducing severity of illness from current strains of the COVID-19 virus. Everyone ages 6 months and older should be vaccinated. If you have not yet been vaccinated, now is the time to do so.”

Frank Kruppa, Whole Health Commissioner stated, “We must all continue to do our part to protect ourselves, our families, and our vulnerable community members. Getting vaccinated, staying home when sick and wearing a high-quality mask in public settings are simple steps we can take to help improve our community’s health. While mask-wearing is not mandated at this time, it is advisable as a very effective tool for decreasing spread of respiratory illnesses.”

Kruppa continued, “This is our third winter with COVID-19 and we know that following these steps helps to reduce spread of the disease. We also know that with reduced PCR testing and more testing done at home, the status of disease prevalence is likely to be much higher than what is reported. We urge continued caution and recommend you get vaccinated and stay up to date on your vaccination by getting the updated booster as soon as you are eligible.”

COVID-19 Test Kits and KN95 masks for youth and adults are available at no-charge at locations throughout the county. Call the location nearest you to check current availability of these resources.

Tompkins County Whole Health (formerly the Tompkins County Health Department): envisioning a future where every person in Tompkins County can achieve wellness. Find us online at, and follow us on Facebook at and on Twitter at @TCWholeHealth. Get Whole Health updates or other county announcements via email or text, sign up here.

Media contact: Shannon Alvord,