The Perfect Enemy | Kane health officials say getting booster shot best way to fight new ‘kraken’ variant of COVID-19 - Chicago Tribune
January 29, 2023

Kane health officials say getting booster shot best way to fight new ‘kraken’ variant of COVID-19 – Chicago Tribune

Kane health officials say getting booster shot best way to fight new ‘kraken’ variant of COVID-19  Chicago TribuneView Full Coverage on Google News

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Medical experts say the new COVID-19 mutation dubbed “kraken” is the most contagious subvariant of the virus to emerge since the pandemic began — and it’s becoming the dominant strain in the United States.

As cases of this latest subvariant, known as XBB.1.5, surge across the northeastern section of the nation, local physicians are urging residents to get their booster shots and stock up on COVID tests. They are predicting that a wave will soon hit the Midwest.

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While the so-called kraken subvariant only accounts for about 7% of cases in Chicago, the city’s top doctor forecast that its prevalence will likely be increasing in the coming weeks.

In Kane County, Health Department Executive Director Michael Isaacson said they are unsure how many cases the subvariant accounts for yet, but they are preparing and constantly monitoring it with state and federal partners.

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“We are watching as its increased in the northeastern part of the U.S. where we are seeing increased hospitalizations,” Isaacson said. “That gives us pause, but we are ready for what may come.”

Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said the subvariant is one of the most contagious yet. Yet uptake of the bivalent booster shots has remained low nationwide, with a little more than 15% of Americans over the age of 5 and about 38% of those aged 65 and older having received an updated booster dose, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

Isaacson said Kane County is no different and has seen a lot less demand for booster shots, which is “unfortunate because there are a lot of people who could be providing themselves extra protection by going out and getting that booster.”

“We’ve seen it taper off in the last six months and I think we’re getting to that next stage where its not the same acute situation as it was a few years ago, but it’s also not over,” Isaacson said. “There are some people who are still highly susceptible to serious illness from COVID, just like with influenza.”

For those 18 and over, the CDC said about one in five people have had the updated bivalent booster shot in Kane County, Isaacson said.

“That’s a lot of people still who haven’t gone out to get it,” Isaacson said. “There is a certain level of fatigue that virtually everyone feels. It’s not as in our face as it was before, but similar to things like chronic diseases and influenza, it can cause a lot of premature death.”

On Dec. 18, the health department saw an average of 127 cases of COVID-19 reported a day in Kane County. About a week later on Dec. 25, the county saw around 140 cases a day, according to Illinois Department of Public Health data.

There were about 118 cases a day on average in Kane County as of Friday.

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The number of cases is likely higher than what is reported because many people are using at-home test kits, Isaacson said.

The Biden administration on Wednesday extended the COVID-19 public health emergency another 90 days, amid the spread of this highly infectious subvariant. The White House has renewed the COVID emergency declaration every 90 days since January 2020.

Arwady explained that XBB.1.5 is a fusion of two existing subvariants of the omicron variant of the virus. The name “kraken” was coined by a Canadian biology professor, reportedly named after a sea monster from Scandinavian folklore.

“I would be the most worried if we had a new variant of concern, meaning a new letter of the Greek alphabet,” Arwady said.

While the substrain doesn’t appear to make individuals sicker than other forms of omicron, it does seem to be more transmissible, she said.

Dr. Ashish Jha, White House COVID-19 response coordinator, wrote on Twitter last week that all evidence suggests that COVID tests work to detect the latest subvariant and treatments like Paxlovid and molnupiravir “should work fine based on what we know.”

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Residents can order free at-home COVID-19 tests from the federal government at covid.gov/tests.

eleventis@chicagotribune.com

mejones@chicagotribune.com