There’s a new variant spreading, called XBB.1.5.
Experts have nicknamed it the Kraken.
Technically, it’s still classified as a subvariant of Omicron, just like everything has over the last year. That’s looking more like a political decision, not one based on actual science. Anyway, this thing is a beast. Cell recently published a profile of XBB.1.5 titled, “Alarming antibody evasion properties of rising SARS-CoV-2 BQ and XBB subvariants.” Here’s their assessment:
Together, our findings indicate that BQ and XBB subvariants present serious threats to current COVID-19 vaccines, render inactive all authorized antibodies, and may have gained dominance in the population because of their advantage in evading antibodies.
They describe the differences with this variant as an “antigenic leap” similar to Omicron from last year. Even if you got the bivalent booster, you’re more vulnerable to breakthrough infections. This thing has already gained dominance in northeastern states. It’s gaining ground throughout the rest of the country. It spreads faster than anything we’ve seen so far. It’s on track to become the dominant variant in a few more days, if it already hasn’t. Hospitalizations have already started shooting up in places where the Kraken dominates.
Hence the nickname.
Nationally, hospitalizations have already reached where they were back in February. We’re starting another huge wave.
We’re less prepared than ever.
In fact, the entire world just recently held an orgy of superspreader events with zero precautions. We threw holiday parties while antibiotics shortages were hitting every corner of the world.
Finally, we’ve seen conclusive evidence that Covid causes lasting damage to your immune system, even in mild cases. It explains the surge in children’s illnesses. Some of my local children’s hospitals are at 100 percent capacity.
The news isn’t talking about it.
A thread by Jeff Gilchrist breaks down all the ways in which this virus targets and down-regulates your immune function. As one researcher says, they’ve found “substantial dysregulation of immune cell numbers that was strongest 12 weeks post-infection, but was still evident in most cases for up to six months and potentially even longer.” Add that to all the brain damage, heart disease, blood clotting, and stroke risk that we already know about.
Here’s the biggest takeaway of all:
You have no idea what Covid will do to you. Even if you feel fine, it could be slowly killing you, and you wouldn’t even know.
That’s the disturbing truth.
Most of us aren’t infectious disease experts, but we have street smarts. When the lab analysts call something the Kraken, you should stay as far away from it as you can. Public-facing experts try to keep us calm. They say things like, “We’ll have to keep an eye on the situation.” Here’s the problem: When they say that, they’re telling us to hang back and see how sick everyone gets.
That’s what the CDC does, too.
Basically, they wait to see exactly how many people wind up in the hospital before they even suggest doing anything about it. Their reluctance to take charge has infuriated millions of us. Even Eric Topol started making fun of the CDC last week. He’s the steadiest guy in the room.
I think it’s time to openly acknowledge that Rochelle Walenksy and the others have a fundamentally different set of goals from the rest of us. We’re trying not to get struck down by a disabling disease.
They’re trying to keep their jobs.
Health officials like Walenksy and Ashish Jha are going to do everything they can to downplay and minimize the threat of new variants. That’s what their bosses want. It’s what the president wants. It’s what all the CEOs want. I’m sure someone explained the stakes to these two. If they don’t play ball, they won’t just lose their jobs. They’ll be blacklisted and unemployable.
It happens all the time.
So, they’re not going to spell out the danger. They’re not going to push masks or indoor air quality that hard. They’re going to push vaccines. The White House is going to recruit doctors to tell us everything’s okay.
That leaves the rest of us hanging.
We can’t afford to sit back and wait. We have to make life-and-death decisions now. Do we work from home, or not? Do we send our kids back to school and daycare, or not? Do we fly to that conference, or not? Do we renew our gym membership, or not? Hardly anybody with major credentials is going to give us a straight answer anymore, with some rare exceptions. They’re more worried about violating normalcy bias and hurting their careers.
That’s why the medical punditry has gone with “assess your own personal risk.” They’re scared of overreacting. It’s more socially, politically, and professionally acceptable to watch thousands die.
As for the media, they’ve gone off the rails. Maybe you’ve seen CNN’s Selina Wang using exaggerated body language to explain how excited Chinese citizens are to “party without fear,” exactly one week after telling us that crematoriums can’t work fast enough to burn their dead. So, the shiny news anchors are pretty clearly just reading off a teleprompter at this point.
They have no control.
If things were going well, I don’t think countries would be passing travel restrictions and even full bans. Yes, it’s a futile effort.
It also shows you how worried they are.
You don’t engage in pandemic theater unless you’re looking for someone to blame for something bad about to happen.
That’s what it looks like.
Then there’s the matter of a new study showing how Covid infections and even vaccines tweak our antibody levels. I’ve gathered as much information as I can there, but it’s still a loose thread. As I wrote, higher IgG4 antibodies could mean that our immune systems are maturing and learning how to fight Covid without triggering a dangerous inflammatory response. Or it could indicate viral persistence, meaning that people are having trouble clearing their infections. We already know that Covid wears down your immune system. It could be related.
We just don’t know at this point.
The troubling part here is that our leaders don’t have their eyes on the ball. There’s no push for a new generation of better vaccines or antivirals to help with this problem. There’s no influx of government money for research. Many of us can’t even get access to Novavax, a non-MRA vaccine that’s been gaining a reputation as a strong competitor against Pfizer and Moderna.
So, it’s up to us.
There’s a handful of enduring truths. It’s a mantra at this point: N95 masks work. Staying home works. Updated vaccines keep you from getting incredibly sick and dying. Indoor air quality matters.
Still, a lot of us are feeling huge amounts of uncertainty right now. We’re not getting a consistent message from anyone, and that makes decisions hard. Then again, everyone does seem to agree on one thing:
They’re saying sit tight.
For me, sitting tight means doing just that. You sit tight. You don’t go out. You keep your kids home if you possibly can. You at least wait a week to see what happens with the Kraken after everyone returns from their holiday. If you have to go out, you wear the best mask you can find. I’ve gotten lots of great recommendations here, and recommendations for children’s masks here.
We need to wait for more information, because the information we have tells us the Kraken is dangerous. I would rather learn more about the Kraken by reading about it than getting infected by it.
It’s also not just the Kraken, it’s the medicine shortage. It’s the exhausted healthcare system. It’s the fact that the vast majority of Americans aren’t acting like they have any sense at all right now.
That’s my view. Stay home if you can.
Use your street smarts.
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Right on Jessica. We’re staying in. Everyone is mad at us anyway because we didn’t come out for the holidays, or winter graduation parties, why stop now when the data is just getting more dire everyday. Thanks again for helping me feel less crazy.
I'm not on Twitter so I can't add to that list of good masks, but let me give a shout-out here to the Powecom headband-style KN95 mask, which I wear religiously when I go to work in a middle school-virus factory-Petri dish. I've been in rooms where kids and adults have, if not COVID, something that sounds a lot like it by the coughs and sneezes that come at me. Of course I layer it with Enovid and an air purifier for my speech room (yes, you CAN do speech and language therapy with a mask and kids still make measurable gains, and I have the data to prove it). These gems are available online at Bona Fide Masks, the only US authorized distributor. Get the headband ones, not the earloop ones, for the best fit.