New York health officials warn about ‘Kraken’ COVID subvariant
ALBANY — A new, highly contagious strain of COVID-19 is making the rounds in New York, resulting in a spike in hospitalizations from a virus that has continued to mutate and wreak havoc around the world for more than three years.
The XBB.1.5 variant now accounts for more than 50 percent of New York’s COVID-19 cases, the state Department of Health announced last week, citing ranking data from the Global Avian Influenza Data Sharing Initiative and urged New Yorkers to consider masking and get the latest COVID-19 booster.
“Since its emergence, the COVID-19 virus continues to change,” Acting State Health Commissioner Dr. James McDonald. “The new bivalent booster has been updated to address these changes, which is why it’s so important that all New Yorkers 6 months and older get the important protection it provides.”
Experts believe that the new subvariant of omicron, which is named “Kraken” after the mythical sea creature, is significantly more transmissible than previous iterations of the coronavirus. It also comes at a time when hospitals are facing a rise in admissions from flu and respiratory syncytial virus, a seasonal illness that is more severe in infants.
The state’s hospitalization database shows a spike in COVID-19 admissions across the country, with the total number of New Yorkers hospitalized with the disease hovering around 4,000 since New Year’s Day. In the Capital Region, the hospitalization rate has increased from about 10 patients per 100,000 population in early December to nearly 18 hospitalizations per 100,000 people on January 9.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s map of community COVID rates, which is updated Thursday, shows high transmission rates in Albany and Rensselaer counties. Columbia and Greene counties have moderate levels of COVID-19, while the rest of the Capital Region community’s level of COVID-19 is low, according to CDC metrics.
Virologists say XBB.1.5 has an increasing number of mutations that enable the virus to bind better to cells. It is derived from the omicron BA.2 subvariant, to which the new bivalent vaccine enhancer has been shown to generate antibodies.
While it may not prevent infection, the booster offers significant protection against getting sick or being hospitalized, McDonald notes. According to recent data from the CDC, those who received the bivalent booster were more than 18 times less likely to die from COVID-19 compared to unvaccinated people.
At this stage there is still no clear evidence of significant changes in the virulence or severity of the disease, but state health officials are reminding all New Yorkers to take precautions to protect themselves and loved ones against a strain that move fast staying up to date. on vaccines, regular hand washing with soap and hot water, disinfection of objects and surfaces and ventilation of areas where people gather.
People should also consider wearing a high-quality mask in indoor public spaces, when they feel sick, in crowded places or around individuals at increased risk of getting very sick, health officials said.
New Yorkers with COVID-positive who do not have a primary care provider can contact a doctor through the toll-free line 1-888-TREAT-NY or the website for a free evaluation and treatment. The state is promoting a new COVID-19 telehealth website, where people virtually access a doctor who will review their symptoms and prescribe either Paxlovid or Molnupiravir.
With respiratory viruses on the rise, individuals who live with, care for or are around someone at risk of becoming very ill should be especially vigilant about wearing masks, with scientific evidence supporting this simple precaution, health officials said.
To schedule a free appointment for the COVID-19 vaccine, bivalent booster or flu shot, visit vaccines.gov, text 438829 or call 1-800-232-0233.