Turning point in the war against my personal virus

I have been cold-free for the last couple of years, which is a desirable condition to be in. Then, almost a week and a half ago, my granddaughter showed up at my doorstep with a face full of snot. We let her in. We knew the price we would pay.

I’ve been miserably clogged up ever since. I was waking up 3 or 4 times a night, struggling to breathe. I was horking up thick, slimy mucus all the time, feeling exhausted and disgusting.

Last night, though was a welcome turning point. I slept a continuous 8 hours! I woke up still able to breathe! I’m still messily congested, but it’s clearly at the mop-up phase where I send macrophages armed with flamethrowers into the caves and tunnels of my face to torch the invaders. Yay! I might be back to normal in time for back-to-school.

Unfortunately, there is a more worrisome virus waiting in the wings: XBB-1.5.

Three years after the novel coronavirus emerged, a new variant, XBB.1.5, is quickly becoming the dominant strain in parts of the United States because of a potent mix of mutations that makes it easier to spread broadly, including among those who have been previously infected or vaccinated.

XBB.1.5, pegged by the World Health Organization as “the most transmissible” descendant yet of the omicron variant, rose from barely 2 percent of U.S. cases at the start of December to more than 27 percent the first week of January, according to new estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More than 70 percent of cases in the Northeast are believed to be XBB.1.5.

We must remain ever-vigilant. Mask up, everyone! I’m afraid my university administration, as well as the federal administration, are committed to downplaying all concerns. My university hasn’t changed their policies since last May, when they decided that nobody needed to wear a mask at all.

We’ve also got the usual idiots who understand neither evolution nor public health who have decided that new variants are caused by vaccination.

While there is no evidence so far that XBB.1.5 is more virulent than its predecessors, a recent swirl of misinformation linking the rise of new variants to vaccination has cast a spotlight on this latest strain and raised concern among some health experts that it could further limit booster uptake.

“XBB did not evolve because people were vaccinated,” said Vaughn Cooper, a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Pittsburgh. “The way it evolved, let’s be straight, is because people were infected by multiple viruses at the same time.”

Since the omicron variant ignited an explosion of cases last winter, it spawned a host of descendants that are even more adept at slipping past antibodies and caused most infections in the United States. The XBB line emerged as a result of two other omicron subvariants swapping parts.

Isn’t that obvious? I mean, you’ve got the responsible people who take every measure to avoid the disease, and then you’ve got the people who go to football games and Walmart without taking precautions, who end up being little ambulatory cauldrons mixing up multiple variants simultaneously, and then some bozo decides the emergence of the explosion of new mix-and-match variants must be the fault of the guy who got the vaccines and stayed home in a safe little bubble.

You know that bozo is going to be featured almost every night on Fox News and Newsmax, and is going to have a popular Facebook page, because the media are fucked.


  1. billseymour says

    I’ll be riding Amtrak’s Empire Builder to Seattle and back about four weeks from now.  I’ll have a room in the sleeper, and I plan to stay there except for meals.

  2. says

    This is impossible. Covid is over! We’re living in a post-Covid world! Any other lie we keep telling ourselves so nobody has to care about other people and those in charge can pretend they didn’t cave to the loudest plague rats!

    We never stood a chance because there were selfish assholes who kept avoiding lock down from the start.

  3. hemidactylus says

    I’m one of the few people from my job who haven’t had symptoms leading to a positive test yet. I haven’t worn a mask in so long I cannot recall. I’m not reckless, but not overly cautious either. That’s not to say my luck won’t run out, but I’ll chalk that up to a boost conferring hybrid immunity. Amor fati. At least I’m not as worried as when the pandemic emerged and we didn’t yet have shots for it.

  4. tacitus says

    Took about a month for my post Covid cough to subside, though that’s about par for the course with me after coronavirus infections (colds).

    My sense of smell is still a bit off. I can smell that I handled an orange a couple of hours ago, but I can’t tell whether I need a change of clothing, even with a strong sniff of my shirt’s armpit. A bit weird. I guess I’ll have to err on the side of caution for the time being…

    I was disappointed to have caught Covid after 32 months clear but five doses of the vaccine did their job. The death rate is still six times higher among the unvaccinated.

  5. raven says

    Even if we didn’t have the vaccines, we would still have new variants arising frequently.
    The virus would have run wild through the population infecting most people, who became somewhat immune. All natural infections due is mimic the vaccines immunologically.

    There wouldn’t be much difference.
    Except that 3.2 million more Americans would be dead, having caught the Covid-19 virus and died.
    That is the estimate of how many lives the vaccines have saved here.
    One of those dead people might well have been me or my friends, since we are all Boomers in high risk groups.
    Plus, a lot more long haulers, in the tens of millions more.

    The US vaccines turned out to work well compared to the alternative.

  6. raven says

    Without the vaccines, the Covid-19 virus would have spread faster and more extensively through the population.

    It would have given rise to more variants.
    We know this for a fact because the virus was spawning new variants even before the vaccines became available. There was the original strain, the first variant due to a selective sweep of a mutation, alpha, and then Delta. Delta turned out to be more virulent and killed a lot of people quickly. Plus all the other variants that came and went without becoming the dominant strain.

    Some of those de novo strains might have been even more virulent. In general, rapid transmission selects for more virulent strains.

    The data is quite clear.
    The vaccines saved 3.2 million lives in the USA.
    A lot of antivaxxers have caught the virus and died. The estimate here is that 330,000 antivaxxers are dead from the Covid-19 virus.

    Antivaxxers kill.
    Sometimes they even kill themselves.

  7. rorschach says

    XBB is the first variant that gained a significant growth advantage via recombination, it evolved by combining bits from 2 BA.2 descendants. Where it gets interesting is the F486P mutation that it then acquired (from a F486S), which causes it to be the most infectious variant to date.
    I never understood those so called experts who have claimed that the virus had manouevered itself into an evolutionary corner, out from which it would not be able to escape. Turns out to be another of these baseless assertions, of which we had way too many in the last 3 years.

  8. hemidactylus says

    Omicron itself allegedly arose from ping ponging into a rodent population so no pressure from vaccination there. But it may have subsequently benefitted compared to other variants in its ability to escape immunity (somewhat as a result itself of vaccination and/or previous infection). There could be a coevolutionary arms race between adaptive immunity and variant mix/matching. That’s why we gotta push newer and better vaccines. Faster turnaround on matching new variants, a more universal sarbecovirus vaccine, and a nasal route to confer better mucosal immunity.

    Last I heard vaccine big pharma wants to monetize what we got already so it’s turning into a commodified neoliberal profit machine. No wonder people distrust motivations in public health. Capitalism the “unknown” ideal…

  9. says

    Thank you PZ (and commenters) for standing by your intelligent convictions.
    Our organization has always been (and will continue to be) fully vaccinated and masked up. I am angered that tRUMP, most of the rest of government and the main slime media are so uncaring about the 1.5+ million people they murdered. I have NO respect for the aholes that misinform and the sheople that just demand their freedumb to infect others. To hell with the malice, stupidity and failure that is human society.

  10. says

    Most of those anti-vax, anti-mask, anti-lockdown idiots couldn’t tell you what a virus is to save their willfully stupid lives. Start telling them about variants swapping parts and I’m guessing you’d get a glazed stare for a few seconds before they go back to repeating their talking points.
    Very few things piss me off like people who can’t be bothered to learn the first thing about an issue before demanding changes in public policy. I mean, Jeebus, get some background. I suppose they’re “standing up to the experts” again.
    And now some of these yo-yos, including Charlie Kirk, are blaming football injuries on the vaccine. Soon after Damar Hamlin went down and almost died on Monday Night Football last week they started claiming that the vaccine was responsible and that athletes all over the country were dropping dead after being vaccinated.
    I heard the words “blow to the chest” and “heart stopped” and immediately thought of commotio cordis, where a sharp blow to the chest at the exact wrong moment in the heart’s cycle causes the heart to stop. It’s not official, but it fits and it’s not unknown in sports, especially “projectile” sports like baseball & hockey. I knew that, and I majored in music, for crying out loud.
    So I spend most of my days now alone in my room, venturing out only for groceries, and wearing my mask when I do. Fortunately, I can live like that, as telephone & internet provide me with all the human contact I ever need. I have yet to be the only person at the store wearing a mask, but we are definitely a minority and I do get some looks. I’m used to that, though, too, and have no doubt I’m doing the right thing, for me and everyone else.

  11. jsrtheta says

    PZ, I empathize. Yesterday I awoke with the Phlegm Factory working triple shifts, and that familiar feeling that tells me “You sick, idiot!”

    Dragged myself to the local bodega and stocked up on Benadryl. Spent the rest of the day in bed. Been vaxxed to the max already. But this still sucks.

  12. birgerjohansson says

    I see articles that the alleged low mortality in Africa was an illusion, created by poor resources.
    As samples from lungs of people who died and were not considered covid victims have been studied, they have revealed the microscopic traces of covid disease.
    A lot more people in Africa died of covid.
    Of course, that the global death toll was underestimated will not have any effect on the denier mutants.

  13. says

    @11 feralboy12: I can identify with both your approach to safety and I was a music major. Don’t bow to foolish societal pressure, Stay Safe. That message is for feralboy12 and everyone here.

  14. says

    @14 birgerjohansson – I’m sure you are correct about the undercounts. I’m certain (and most epidemiologists concur) there is VERY inaccurate info here in the united states, too. Nobody is even tracking covid stats anymore. Welcome to the Plague Years.

  15. rorschach says

    There is increased cardiovascular mortality now. In Germany, there are 300-500 excess deaths per day compared to 2016-19. Diagnoses of “sudden cardiac death” or similar have doubled since 2020.
    When they tell you we are now living with Covid, what they mean is the normalisation and societal acceptance of dying with Covid.

  16. R. L. Foster says

    Gawd damn it all. I feel as though I’ve just awoken from a three year long coma. The comments and discussions everywhere are almost exactly what they were in 2020.

    Get vaccinated, vaccines are dangerous, mask up, don’t tell me what to do, my body, don’t give a shit about yours, the virus will get you, maybe it won’t, it came from China, who gives a fuck where it came from? if you’re vaxxed chances are you’ll only get flu-like symptoms, natural immunity is better than Mrna vaccines, no it’s not you ignorant asshole, if you’re over 65 you may die vaxxed or not, blame Trump, blame Fauci, gain of fucking function, don’t get on a plane, live your life, is it a cold, is it the flu, is it covid, who the fuck knows anymore?


  17. Larry says


    I’ll be riding Amtrak’s Empire Builder to Seattle and back about four weeks from now.

    I rode Amtrak in June, also using sleeper car. Masks were not required then and I wouldn’t expect that to change. Outside of the observation car, your greatest exposure to others will be the dining car. Depending upon your party size, you may be required to share a table. While remaining in your cabin is a viable option, you’ll still need to leave it to use the toilet and shower and, to be frank, they’re very small and spending most of your day and night in it can be a bore. Bring plenty to read and listen to.

  18. raven says

    I see articles that the alleged low mortality in Africa was an illusion, created by poor resources.

    In much of the Third World, they aren’t even bothering to count the number of dead from Covid-19 virus.
    They don’t even have the health care systems to be able to do something like that anyway.

    China isn’t counting its dead either.
    The Chinese government’s claim of Covid-19 virus dead are in the thousands when the actual numbers are in the hundreds of thousands. They are off by several orders of magnitude.
    Estimates are that 1 million to 1.7 million Chinese will be dead by the time this wave is over with in April, 2023. Since they aren’t counting, we may never know the real number.

    Russia never bothered to count their dead either.
    Statistics in Russia and China are tools of the state, meaning they are whatever the authorities want them to be.
    Estimates are that around 800,000 Russians died in their pandemic.

    It is/was the same in the USA.
    A lot of states and regions stopped counting Covid-19 virus deaths long ago, Nebraska and Florida among them. In some Red counties, the local authorities just refused to label anyone who died from Covid-19 virus as someone who…died from the Covid-19 virus.

  19. asclepias says

    I had stopped wearing a mask when I went to see people I knew, like when I pick up the dogs I walk. If I’m in a big box store or any other boxed place (I am the only person who masks at the animal shelter), I wear a mask. However, a friend of my mom’s called last week to say that she had COVID, having gotten it from a neighbor who she took a loaf of bread to. The neighbor and her family had no symptoms then, but broke with flu and COVID a few days later. That scared me, so I will be wearing a mask inside anywhere but my own house for the foreseeable future.

  20. says

    Ahhh, don’t worry, one German “expert”(a proper virologist!) who shouldn’t be given any platform after having minimised Covid from the start and been false every single time, said it was no concern. it could just mean that”adults will possibly catch Covid several times a year”.
    Call me a warmduscher (person who showers with warm water), but even if there was no risk of any of those infections being worse than the first one I had, that would still mean 2 weeks of being actually sick and then several weeks of fighting my way back to health. If I have to go through that several times a year, I won’t have time for anything else. You thought the kids missing school back when we took Covid serious was bad? wait for a significant percentage being out sick at any given moment with teachers never knowing which kid missed which class because there’s just too many and also you constantly need to cover for the sick staff.

  21. billseymour says

    Larry @20:  I’ve long been an Amtrak rider.  I’ll have a bedroom with a private sink, toilet and shower, and so no need to leave the room except for meals.  I tend to be pretty introverted, so I’ll be happy to stay in my room with my books and my computer most of the time.  I’m told that Amtrak has restored traditional dining on all the Superliner trains except the Texas Eagle and Capitol Limited, so I do plan to take my meals in the diner; and, yes, I’ll have some exposure there while the mask is off for actual eating and drinking.  We’ll see how that goes…

  22. hemidactylus says

    Ironically I just cut my own hair today. I haven’t gone to a haircutting place since early 2020, so a byproduct of the pandemic is my practiced self-sufficiency with cutting my own hair. I slightly balded myself a few times on the learning curve. Ridana (sp?) had made some suggestions a couple years ago in the comments that helped. So think of all the money I saved. I briefly entertained the idea of going somewhere, but didn’t want to risk it. My bangs were getting obnoxious so I got off my lazy butt…feels much better now.

    I might go to a restaurant to eat sometime soon this week (my b-day) but I’ve been doing that already.

  23. Larry says


    They have, indeed, restored traditional dining with real metal ware and plastic plates. Since you’ve been on the train, you probably already know that you can ask your car attendant to bring you your meal.

    On a related topic, since you said you’ve ridden Amtrack many times before, I’m curious as to why. As a bucket list thing, I rode the trains from San Jose to Seattle, Seattle to Chicago, and Chicago to Emeryville over a two week trip. I’ll never do it again. The cars were outdated, not terribly clean, very noisy at night, and very bouncy whenever we were moving. Worst of all they were slow, slow, slow. All three arrived at their destinations anywhere from 2 to 5 hours late. They were also expensive. Just not my idea of how to travel by train. Maybe I’ve seen too many videos of train travel in Japan, Europe, and even Australia.

  24. billseymour says

    Larry @26:  there’s no ‘c’ in “Amtrak”.

    It’s ground transportation, so, yes, you have to have the time; but I’m retired now so that’s not an issue; and I’m fortunate that I’m able to afford sleepers on Amtrak (roughly comparable to business class air fares) if I don’t try to afford other stuff that I don’t really want that much anyway.

    I enjoy riding trains.  I’m not at all nostalgic about them; I think it’s a good way to travel today.  Unfortunately, we don’t have a very good network of trains in the U.S.; and Amtrak has some serious problems.  I still ride their trains, though, because I think it’s much more comfortable, and much less humiliating, than air travel.

  25. rorschach says

    “Maybe I’ve seen too many videos of train travel in Japan, Europe, and even Australia.”

    You can not be serious. Australia surely has some of the worst and slowest trains in the developed world, not dissimilar to their internet speeds btw. Scenic routes, some of them, no doubt, like the Indian Pacific from East to West Coast, but it takes 3 days to get there. Used to take a train from Melbourne to a rural town 100km away, took almost 2 hours, and naturally no Wifi. I don’t know anything about trains in the US, but it can’t be much worse.

  26. birgerjohansson says

    France has long used high speed trains on the routes with most passenger traffic.
    In Sweden, the terrain makes it very expensive to extend high speed routes as you must blast tunnels everywhere but I can now travel at 200 km/h southwards all the way to Stockholm.
    This way it is not necessary to sleep on the train.

    I cannot vouch for German trains as I travel by air when visiting.
    British trains were privatised during Thatcher and that apparently did not help with coordination. Think Dixie trains during the civil war.

    The Norwegians could probably afford to upgrade their rail and build tunnels everywhere but they have a fast ferry service (Hurtigrutten) travelling along the coast all the way to the Russian border, avoiding mountains and fjords. This is a more large-scale form of collective transport and probably more comfortable, but physics prevent any dramatic increase of speed through the water.