New, more infectious COVID-19 subvariant likely already in Windsor: hospital

Downtown Windsor looking towards Detroit.  (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC - image credit)
Downtown Windsor looking towards Detroit. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC - image credit)

There's no question that a new, more infectious COVID-19 subvariant is already in the community, according to Windsor Regional Hospital's chief of staff.

XBB.1.5., or "Kraken" as its also called, is a subvariant of the highly infectious COVID-19 variant Omicron.

During Windsor Regional Hospital's board meeting Thursday, chief of staff Dr. Wassim Saad said that being a border city, "we are going to be one of the first areas in Canada to see a variant like this enter our community and I don't think that there's any question that it is already in our community."

Jennifer La Grassa/CBC
Jennifer La Grassa/CBC

According to an email from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), as of Wednesday, there were 21 known cases of XBB.1.5. in the country.

Though the full tally, based on the latest-available provincial and regional surveillance, appears slightly higher.

As of Wednesday, British Columbia reported 12 cases of the subvariant and on Thursday, Newfoundland and Labrador reported its first case.

Based on Ontario's most recent COVID-19 genomic surveillance program report, which has data up to Dec. 10, 2022, the subvariant hasn't been identified in Ontario.

In an email Friday, the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU) said it has no information on confirmed cases of the XBB.1.5. in the region.

But, the Omicron offshoot is rising rapidly south of the border.

According to Saad, XBB.1.5. is "highly infectious and highly transmissible."

Unsure how 'deadly' or 'severe' subvariant is 

"What we do not know yet about this subvariant ... is how deadly it is, we're not sure whether it's leading to increased hospitalizations, but the World Health Organization is doing studies and tracking it very closely," he said.

Dr. Fahad Razak, the former director of Ontario's COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, spoke with CBC News earlier this week.

Razak said we don't know if this subvariant causes more severe infection or if it's "better able to evade the immune system than the older variants."

He added that there are no new symptoms related to XBB.1.5.

Razak said he doesn't think this is something people should be "alarmed" about, but adds that they should take it seriously as it will likely drive the next surge in cases. He also said that it is all the more reason for people to stay up-to-date on their vaccinations to best protect themselves.

"Windsor is, in many ways, the front of the line for Canada in terms of any exposure that happens," he said.

"You cannot keep out what is happening in the United States, so I think one of the lessons of the pandemic at this point, is you have to take the steps internally to protect yourself."

He said it's most likely that Windsor will have the earliest and possibly highest amount of exposures of this new subvariant due to the border.

In Windsor-Essex, 19.9 per cent of the population has four vaccine doses.