After spreading across Asia and Europe, the omicron subvariant BA.2 has become the dominant strain of COVID-19 within the U.S., but now the new XE variant could be even more contagious. XE is actually composed of the genetic material from two other strains - BA.1 and BA.2 which are both strains of omicron. Therefore, it is being referred to as a “recombinant” strain. Recombination strains have emerged throughout the pandemic and is not an unusual occurrence with viruses. Preliminary findings report that XE is about 10% more transmissible than BA.2, though more research has to be completed.
The XE variant was first detected in the UK in January, while BA.2 is now responsible for more than half of the COVID-19 infections within the U.S. Even though cases in the U.S. are at a six-month low, what will happen next with the XE variant is hard to predict. While we can look to Europe for hints, it isn't always the most helpful because BA.2 has been unpredictable. We can continue to expect unpredictability, as no two countries are the same. In the UK there have been over 635 cases of COVID-19 from the XE variant as of the start of April.
There may be unpredictable effects on populations, but you can continue to take the same precautions as an individual to reduce personal risk, like getting vaccinated, wearing an N95 mask when local cases are high, social distancing when possible and getting tested if you suspect you may have COVID-19.