UNMC official predicts next two months will be ‘real ugly’ due to new ‘Super Kraken’ COVID-19 variant

By: - January 17, 2023 1:18 pm
James Lawler

Dr. James Lawler, co-executive director of the Global Center for Health Security at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, with an illustration of the SARS Coronavirus. (Kent Sievers/UNMC)

LINCOLN — Infectious disease authority Dr. James Lawler is predicting a couple of “real ugly” months ahead due to the arrival of a new, more transmissible, more immunity-evasive variant of COVID-19.

In a YouTube video posted last week, Lawler said the new XBB. 1.5 COVID variant is already causing jumps in hospitalization rates in the New England states and is destined to become the dominant variant in the U.S.

“Its ability to spread in populations is dramatically higher than anything we’ve seen recently,” said Lawler, of the Global Center for Health Security at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. 

“That is really concerning,” he said.

Since COVID-19 arrived in the U.S. in spring 2020, it has mutated several times, and the latest variant, Lawler said, has shown to be more highly transmissible and better able to evade immunity from prior infections and vaccinations. 

Lawler dubbed the new XBB. 1.5 variant “Super Kraken” because of the concerns it generates. 

Already, more than 40% of cases in the U.S. are linked to the Super Kraken, he said. But, it accounts for 75% of cases in the New England states, where hospitalization rates are spiking.

While the number of reported cases of COVID remains relatively low in Nebraska, Lawler said those statistics are really “bunk” because few people are getting tested and home tests aren’t being reported.

The reality is, people don’t want to know anymore if they have COVID,” he said.

Lawler compared what’s ahead to the sharp increase in infections a year ago caused by the Omicron variant.

He said Americans are less prepared now to take on a new wave of COVID infections, however, because fewer people have updated their vaccinations in the past year.

Most of the hospitalizations involving the new variant are among people 70 years and older, and he expects the death rate to rise in that age group.

Lawler recommended that people update their vaccinations, particularly those who haven’t gotten a shot in the past year.

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska Legislature and Nebraska state government for decades. He started his career reporting for the Omaha Sun and later, editing the Papillion Times group in suburban Omaha. He joined the Lincoln Journal-Star as a sports enterprise reporter, and then a roving reporter covering southeast Nebraska. In 1990, he was hired by the Omaha World-Herald as a legislative reporter. Later, for 15 years, he roamed the state covering all kinds of news and feature stories. In the past decade, he served as chief of the Lincoln Bureau and enterprise reporter. Paul has won awards for reporting from Great Plains Journalism, the Associated Press, Nebraska Newspaper Association and Suburban Newspapers of America. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation, a member of the Nebraska Hop Growers and a volunteer caretaker of Irvingdale Park in Lincoln.