New York State Department of Health Updates New Yorkers On the Xbb.1.5 Variant, Now Comprising Over 50 Percent of Covid Cases In the State

Early Estimates Indicate New Strain Able to Spread More Rapidly Than Other Variants Currently Circulating

New Yorkers 6 Months and Older Should Receive Their Bivalent Booster and Flu Shot

Follow Simple Precautions: Wash Hands, Keep Surfaces Clean, Let Fresh Air In, Consider Wearing Masks, and Stay Home When Sick

To Prevent Severe Illness, COVID-Positive New Yorkers Without a Provider Should Call 1-888-TREAT-NY or visit NYS COVID-19 Express Care Therapeutics Access Website For a Free Clinical Evaluation and Medication

Find nearby locations for free COVID-19 and flu shots:

Albany, N.Y. (January 6, 2023) – The New York State Department of Health today updated New Yorkers on the XBB.1.5 variant, which now makes up over 50 percent of COVID-19 cases in New York. Based on samples sequenced and uploaded into the Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data (GISAID), the world's largest database for COVID-19 variant data, the XBB.1.5 variant is the predominant strain in the State.

"Since it emerged, the COVID-19 virus continues to change," Acting State Health Commissioner Dr. James McDonald said. "The new bivalent booster has been updated to address these changes, which is why it is so important that all New Yorkers 6 months and older get the important protection it offers. The booster provides significant protection against getting very sick or being hospitalized, and according to the latest data from CDC, those who received the bivalent booster were more than 18 times less likely to die from COVID-19 compared to unvaccinated people."

Emerging at a time when both COVID-19 and flu cases are high, early data indicate that XBB.1.5 is able to spread more rapidly than other currently circulating variants. While at this stage there is not yet clear evidence of significant changes to virulence or severity of disease, the Department reminds all New Yorkers to take precautions to protect themselves and loved ones against a fast-moving strain:

  • Stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccines and get the bivalent booster (everyone 6 months of age and older).
  • It's not too late: get the flu shot (everyone 6 months of age and older).
  • Regularly wash hands with soap and hot water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Clean and disinfect commonly used objects and surfaces.
  • Cough and sneeze into a tissue or elbow and teach children to do the same.
  • Considerwearing a well-fitting, high-quality mask in public indoor spaces, when feeling unwell, in crowded places, or around individuals at increased risk of getting very sick.
  • Ventilate indoors or open windows, particularly when gathering with others.
  • Stay home when sick, learn symptoms for common respiratory viruses, and get tested.
  • If COVID-positive, contact a provider or the free 1-888-TREAT-NY hotline or website for a free evaluation and medication.

With respiratory viruses spreading, individuals who live, care, or are around someone who is at risk of becoming very ill (including children under 1 year of age, adults over 65 years of age, or those with a compromised immune system) should be especially vigilant with mask-wearing, with scientific evidence supporting this simple, precautionary measure.

To prevent severe illness and hospitalization, COVID-positive New Yorkers should seek safe medication or treatment, which are most effective when taken within the first few days symptoms appear. New Yorkers who do not have a regular doctor can call the State's hotline at 1-888-TREAT-NY (1-888-364-3065) or visit the NYS COVID-19 Express Care Therapeutics Access Website for a free telehealth appointment with a medical provider, who will review symptoms and prescribe either Paxlovid or Molnupiravir.

To schedule a free COVID-19 vaccine, bivalent booster, or flu shot appointment, visit, text a ZIP code to 438829, or call 1-800-232-0233. At, after entering a 5-digit ZIP Code, New Yorkers can click "Updated Vaccines" and select the bivalent booster type by age they are seeking to book an appointment for themselves or their children 6 months and older. New Yorkers can also reach out to a health care provider, local pharmacy, or county health department about vaccine appointment availability.

To learn more about COVID-19 variants, New Yorkers can visit the Department's dedicated variant webpage here.