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Globally, 4,900 deaths were reported in the 28 days between June 5 and July 2. The WHO African region has again reported a slight increase in deaths while the other five world regions have continued to report decreases. The comforting non-news during this welcome seasonal break is that there have been no reports of major COVID upsurges anywhere in the world.
What’s most interesting in this week’s composite chart is the latest US data on relative variant incidence. Just as COVID became purely Omicron, the XBB rapidly-diversifying family of recombinant subvariants has become Omicron, accounting for nearly 100% of all new reported cases. For perhaps the first time in this pandemic, the bar graph shows no one strain with anything approaching dominance. The previously-dominant XBB.1.5 strain is now down to 16% and XBB.1.16, it’s major challenger to date, is plateauing. The one to watch now is fourth-place EG.5 (which is actually a direct progeny of XBB.1.9.2). EG.5 has mushroomed by an astonishing 13 times over the past eight weeks, which suggests that, until an even more transmissible challenger appears, it is on track for dominance within the next month or so. Up to now, XBB variants have all produced similar, mostly moderate symptoms and both prior infection and the current bivalent booster have provided good protection against infection. It is inevitable that, sooner or later, a variant will come along with superior immunity-evading properties, thereby unleashing a new wave of COVID reinfections. When it does, its emergence will look a lot like what EG.5 is doing now.
The Ontario’s slight moderating trends in wastewater viral counts and hospitalizations continues (PCR test positivity results weren’t reported this week). My own community of Kingston is currently an exception to this trend, with wastewater counts having jumped in the central/eastern half of our city and, for the first time, Ontario’s highest per-capita increase in COVID hospitalizations. It remains to be seen whether that turns out to be a trend reversal or a mere statistical blip.
Most Ontarians continue to be more concerned right now about the potential health impacts of unprecedently toxic air from Quebec’s out-of-control wildfires than COVID though, ironically, those N95 masks turned out to be perfect for outdoor use when particulate readings reached hazardous levels. Kingston has fared worse than most, though is, at the time of writing, enjoying a most welcome lull. While we’ve been only tracking the Kingston numbers at https://www.coviddailyupdates.ca/air-quality, if you go to that page, you will find both useful links for doing that tracking for your own areas and advice on protecting yourselves the best that you can.
The new normal of toxic-air summers, pandemics, the spread of tick-borne diseases like Lyme, and increasingly extreme weather all highlight the folly of believing that Canadians are safe from the consequences of human-driven global heating and don’t need to bother doing everything possible to limit those deadly changes to the extent that it is still possible.