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‘Highly Contagious’ COVID-19 Variant Now in Fresno County Adds to Health Care Crisis



With local health care systems already stressed, a new Omicron subvariant has been detected in Fresno County. (Shutterstock)
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A new Omicron subvariant has been detected in Fresno County, public health officials said Wednesday afternoon.

This new subvariant (XBB.1.5) has a high growth rate and is quickly spreading in many areas of the country, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The subvariant’s local arrival coincides with the declaration of a state of emergency in Fresno County by the Board of Supervisors.

The declaration stemmed from the closure of Madera Community Hospital and the fact area hospitals are overflowing with patients.

“(The) emergence of this new Omicron subvariant poses a new threat to the hospital system that is already burdened with COVID-19, RSV, and flu,” the Fresno County Department of Public Health said in a news release. “This is also a stark reminder that COVID-19 is still circulating in the community, and residents should take proactive steps to protect themselves.”

Highly Contagious Version of COVID

Infectious disease experts are increasingly worried about the “highly contagious” omicron XBB.1.5 variant, Reuters reported Thursday.

World Health Organization senior epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove said that the subvariant is the most easily spread version detected so far.

She said at a news briefing on Wednesday that it spreads rapidly because of the mutations it contains, allowing it to adhere to cells and replicate easily.

Vaccines Offer the Best Protection

As with other variants, the COVID-19 vaccines are one of the most effective tools to reduce the spread of COVID-19, public health officials said. You can visit for vaccine events and locations.

“As schools get ready to resume and individuals return to work from the holiday break, it will be important to use layers of protection. This includes getting vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19, masking in high-risk public indoor settings, and testing at home or visiting Optum Serve sites,” said Dr. Rais Vohra, Fresno County’s interim health officer.

What to Do If You Test Positive

High risk individuals who test positive for COVID-19 are advised to contact their doctor or visit a test-to-treat site immediately to seek treatment. Free telemedicine services via Sesame Care are available through the California Department of Public Health.

Masking, ventilation, and physical distancing form an effective multi-layered defense against COVID-19, health experts say.

Public health officials remind residents that:

  • Anyone who develops symptoms of COVID-19 should isolate themselves and get tested as soon as possible.
  • Everyone ages 6 months and older are eligible for the updated (bivalent) COVID-19 booster.
  • Quick and easy-to-use COVID-19 home test kits are available in pharmacies, stores, and the mail via the federal free at-home test kit program.
  • Wear a mask indoors and in crowded settings. N95, KN95, and surgical masks are more effective than cloth masks at preventing spread and protecting you from contracting COVID-19.
  • If you are hosting an indoor event, increase ventilation by opening windows or turning on ventilation, and consider placing HEPA filters in rooms.
  • Keep group gatherings small. Gather with close family units.
  • Outdoor gatherings are safer than indoor gatherings.
  • Be particularly cautious around elderly or immunocompromised individuals and consider COVID-19 testing before such interactions.

For more information on COVID-19, visit

Flu Preventions Tips

(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Bill McEwen is news director and columnist for GV Wire. He joined GV Wire in August 2017 after 37 years at The Fresno Bee. With The Bee, he served as Opinion Editor, City Hall reporter, Metro columnist, sports columnist and sports editor through the years. His work has been frequently honored by the California Newspapers Publishers Association, including authoring first-place editorials in 2015 and 2016. Bill and his wife, Karen, are proud parents of two adult sons, and they have two grandsons. You can contact Bill at 559-492-4031 or at Send an Email

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