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New COVID variant emerges in U.S. as surge rises in 10 Chicago Black zip codes

A holiday surge in COVID-19 cases continues to rise in 10 Chicago Black neighborhoods as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracks a new Omicron sub-variant that has emerged in parts of the U.S.

Known as XBB.1.5, the sub-variant has caused 40.5 percent of cases in the United States followed by sub-variants BQ.1.1 at 26.9 percent; BQ.1 at 18.3 percent; BA.5 at 3.7 percent; and XBB at 3.6 percent.

“We’re projecting that it’s going to be the dominant variant in the Northeast region of the country and that it’s going to increase in all regions of the country,” said Dr. Barbara Mahon, director of the CDC’s proposed Coronavirus and Other Respiratory Viruses Division, in an interview with CBS News.

According to Mahon, the CDC had not listed XBB.1.5 separately in its earlier projections because the strain had not cleared a minimum threshold in the underlying sequences collected by the agency.

The agency’s 40.5 percent figure is only a projection, Mahon stressed, with a probability interval ranging right now from 22.7 percent to 61.0 percent.

Meanwhile, a holiday surge continues to rise in many of Chicago’s Black zip codes, according to a Crusader analysis of data from the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH).

The latest data show that 10 Black zip codes on Chicago’s South and West sides identify positivity rates that are highest in the past two weeks, including last week, when 16 Black zip codes were at record highs in December.

Nine zip codes had positivity rates above five percent. Two Black zip codes, 60615 (Grand Boulevard, Kenwood, Hyde Park, Washington Park) and 60617 had higher positivity rates higher than the city’s 7.5 percent.

Last week, Chicago’s positivity rate was 6.7 percent, as health officials say Chicago was on the brink of moving from medium to high risk. Health Commissioner Allison Arwady said Chicago was likely to move to high this week.

CBS News reported that 13 percent of Americans are currently living in areas of “high” COVID-19 Community Levels, where CDC officials urge residents to wear masks. Los Angeles, Miami and New York City rank among the biggest counties now at these levels.

Five of the 10 Black zip codes had a total of five deaths last week, including 60617 (East Side, South Chicago, South Shore, Avalon Park, Hegewisch, Pullman), 60637 (Washington Park, Woodlawn, South Shore), 60643 (Beverly, Morgan Park, Washington Heights), and 60649 (South Shore, Woodlawn, Avalon Park, South Chicago).

covid rates

Two deaths were reported in South Shore’s 60649, where the vaccination rate remains among the lowest in Chicago. On Saturday, January 7, South Shore Works will hold a vaccination clinic at 10 a.m. at Bryn Mawr Community Church, 7000 S. Jeffery Blvd. The clinic will provide shots for the flu and the bivalent COVID-19 booster, which protects one from the XBB.1.5 sub-variant.

The post-holiday surge has occurred the past three years in cities across the country after families and friends gathered indoors during parties and celebrations.

The latest COVID sub-variant XBB.1.5 has CDC officials concerned.

Health officials say XBB.1.5’s ascent has surpassed Omicron sub-variants BQ.1 and BQ.1.1, which had dominated a wave of infections over the fall. Scientists believe XBB.1.5’s recent growth could be fueled by key mutations on top of what was already one of the more immune evasive strains of Omicron to date.

CDC officials said XBB.1.5’s spread is the largest in the Northeast. Most of the earliest cases from XBB.1.5, recorded in global databases through early November, were in New York and Massachusetts.

Health officials said the XBB.1.5 sub-variant has caused more than 70 percent of infections in the regions spanning New Jersey through New England. In New England, the CDC says new hospitalizations among Americans 70 and older have climbed to the highest levels seen since early February.

The XBB.1.5 strain is a spinoff of the XBB variant, which fueled a wave of infections overseas earlier this year.

President Joe Biden’s administration last year reportedly expressed optimism that XBB was unlikely to dominate infections in the country. South Asian nations like Singapore reported that strain appeared to pose a lower risk of hospitalization relative to earlier Omicron variants.

After it was first identified in the U.S., XBB had made up a small fraction of U.S. cases for several weeks despite appearing in a growing share of variants from arriving international travelers.

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