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County Remains at Low COVID Community Level Despite Fast-Spreading Subvariant

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By Jorge Casuso

February 10, 2023 -- A highly contagious COVID subvariant that has not resulted in an increase in hospitalizations and deaths is now the dominant strain in Los Angeles County, health officials said Friday.

Dubbed the "Kraken" by some scientists on Twitter, the rapidly spreading COVID-19 strain XBB.1.5 accounted for one-third of the cases countywide for the week ending January 21.

Nationwide, the subvariant -- which accounted for 43 percent of the cases a month ago -- now accounts for about three-fourths of the cases.

But the ominous-sounding moniker -- named after the folkloric sea monster -- is falsely alarming for a strain that shares symptoms with the typical cold or flu.

"While new emergent strains have the potential to drive surges in transmission, Los Angeles County is currently reporting a steady number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations compared to the week prior," County Health officials said Friday.

Meanwhile, virus-related deaths -- which averaged about 15 per day last week in the county of more than 10 million -- are "slightly lower from what was seen for most of January," officials said.

As a result, for the fourth consecutive week, LA County remains in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control's (CDC) Low COVID-19 Community Level, officials said.

In Santa Monica, cornonavirus cases have also remained steady, averaging fewer than 50 for the past four weeks, although three virus-related deaths were reported over the past eight days.

It typically takes about two weeks to report a death, Public Health officials have said.

The total number of cases confirmed in the City of 93,000 was 25,943, or an average of about 24 per day. There have been 294 virus-related deaths.

The number of positive cases reported by the County have become a poor indicator, since many, if not most, people test themselves at home and may not report results to the health authority.

That is even more likely the case, since the symptoms of the new variant are similar to a cold or flu -- cough, congestion and shortness of breath.

Other symptoms can include fever, chills, fatigue, muscle or body aches, sore throat, nausea or vomiting and diarrhea, according to the American Medical Association (AMA).

Symptoms can last between five to seven days but vary from person to person, the AMA said on its website.

“Many people who are infected now are reporting mild symptoms like cough, congestion and a headache that could be confused with symptoms of the cold or flu,” said Andrea Garcia, the association's vice president of science, medicine and public health.

The latest dominant subvariant seems more resistant to immune system antibodies, allowing it to quickly spread among those who have been vaccinated and previously infected, experts said.

According to scientists, XBB.1.5 “appears to bind more tightly to cells in the human body than the predecessors,” Garcia said.

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