COVID subvariant spreading ahead of busy holiday travel season

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CLEVELAND (WJW) – As people get ready to travel across the country for the holidays, health officials are issuing a word of caution regarding COVID subvariant JN.1, now the fastest-growing strain in the nation.

“It’s got one different mutation which makes it more fit and able to travel faster, in folks who have not been vaccinated against it,” said Cleveland Clinic Dr. Kristin Englund. “The studies are not showing that it’s more severe.”

The World Health Organization recently classified JN.1 as a variant of interest after being reported in multiple countries with a rapidly increasing global presence.

“We’re going to see more cases of COVID potentially, more hospitalizations, but hopefully no more increases of death,” said Englund.

Summit County Public Health experts are tracking a dramatic rise in the subvariant and other illnesses. People most at risk for serious complications are the elderly, young and immunocompromised.

“Over the past four weeks, CDC put out there was a 200% increase in influenza hospitalizations, there’s 51% increase in COVID hospitalizations and 60% increase in RSV,” said Medical Director Dr. Erika Sobolewski. “All three of which now can be vaccine preventable.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports COVID hospital admissions are up slightly by 3% from last week.

Cuyahoga County Board of Health reports JN.1 accounted for 4% of all reported variants in Ohio. Other variants HV.1 and EG.5 were the dominant variants representing 25% and 11%, a spokesperson said.

Enlund said JN.1 was first noted in the U.S. in September and was responsible for doubling cases between Thanksgiving and mid-December, with a higher predominance of cases in the Northeast.

“In the Midwest, we’re seeing about 20% of the cases being this new variant and pretty soon in the next couple of weeks they’re anticipating, it’s going to be the dominant variant,” said Englund.

Before hitting the road this holiday season, doctors advise travelers to plan accordingly for a healthy holiday.

“Understand the people that you’re going to see,” Englund said. “If you’re going to see somebody who is elderly and frail, really think about getting yourself tested for COVID before you go and if you’re positive, mask when you’re around them or think about not going.”

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