ITHACA, N.Y.—The Centers for Disease Control and Tompkins County have both raised the COVID-19 health alert level to “medium” from “low” after the latest aggressive variant of the coronavirus has become the most prevalent form of COVID-19 in New York. There was no updated masking policy accompanying the announcement (Tompkins County’s mask advisory was dropped in June 2022), but officials encouraged the public to receive updated booster shots of the vaccine.

The announcement comes after the Omicron XBB.1.5 variant has overtaken other variants in New York, now representing 55 percent of total cases in New York, according to the Tompkins County Department of Whole Health. Most of central and western New York is now in a “medium” level of community spread of COVID-19. XBB.1.5 is the latest variant to become more transmissible than previous iterations of COVID.

In Tompkins County specifically, there were 80 positive cases last week, a slight drop from the week prior. According to the whole health department, there were about a dozen people admitted to the hospital last week with COVID-19, but that current COVID-19 patients are only taking up 3.9 percent of the hospital’s bed capacity.

Over the last two years, January has customarily been a bad month for Tompkins County, as holiday gatherings cause more cases and an influx of population as students return from winter break to Cornell University and Ithaca College both normally cause positive case numbers to soar. The impact hasn’t seemed as intense this year as last, though testing has also greatly decreased locally.

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.”

Matt Butler is the Editor in Chief of The Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at