Ask Us: Is the Delta variant being tracked locally?

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 5, 2021

Editor’s note: Ask Us is a weekly feature published online Mondays and in print on Tuesdays. We’ll seek to answer your questions about items or trends in Rowan County. Have a question? Email it to askus@salisburypost.com.

The exact number of local cases of the Delta variant of COVID-19 is difficult to track, and Rowan County Health Director Alyssa Harris said the state has not provided information down to to the county level.

Readers asked about the prevalence of the newer strain of COVID-19 that was first identified in India in December and has since spread across the globe. As of June 22, an estimated 2% of COVID-19 cases in North Carolina are Delta variant cases. Harris said she expects that percent to increase in a similar manner to the highly infectious variant that emerged in the United Kingdom last year and rapidly spread throughout the world. The U.K. variant, officially designated B.1.1.7, is the most prevalent version of COVID-19 in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Region No. 4, which contains North Carolina.

During a Thursday news conference, Novant Health infectious disease specialist Dr. David Priest said doctors do not have the ability to know if a patient has the Delta variant at bedside, but sequencing is happening at state and federal levels. Priest said 25% of the cases in the country are the Delta variant, officially known as B.1.617.2. Priest said the proportion of Delta variant cases is doubling every two weeks. So, there will be more local cases.

In North Carolina’s HHS region, which includes seven other states in the Southeast, an estimated 11.6% of COVID-19 cases are the Delta variant.

Harris said positive test results may be sequenced to get more information on the variant present in a particular case, but that will happen at the state level instead of the Rowan County Health Department.

The Delta variant is one the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has labeled as a “variant of concern.” It appears, like the U.K. variant, the Delta variant is more infectious than the initial strain, but current COVID-19 vaccines are effective against it.

Currently, the CDC has identified no strains of COVID-19 in the U.S. that rise to its “variant of high consequence” designation. The characteristics of a variant at that level may include failure of diagnostics, a significant reduction in vaccine effectiveness or more severe illness.

Harris said it is important to reiterate current vaccines are effective against the Delta variant. She encouraged more people to get vaccinated to break the cycle of mutation. The more the virus has a chance to spread and mutate, Harris said, the more it has a chance to restart the cycle of the pandemic.

During the news conference, Priest said all the vaccines are safe and effective, and emerging data suggests mixing vaccines from different manufacturers will be safe. Though, there is no guidance on administering booster shots yet.

Priest said he encourages people to get any of the available vaccines and be patient; they will be protected.

Harris also noted that more infectious variants pose an increased risk to unvaccinated people. They are expected to spread more quickly and, therefore, lead to more cases of serious illness, even if the percent of infections that result in serious illness remains the same.

About 35% of Rowan County residents have received at least one dose of a vaccine. About 30% are considered fully vaccinated.

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About Carl Blankenship

Carl Blankenship has covered education for the Post since December 2019. Before coming to Salisbury he was a staff writer for The Avery Journal-Times in Newland and graduated from Appalachian State University in 2017, where he was editor of The Appalachian.

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