The Delta variant of COVID-19 continues to spread through the U.S., with Missouri and Kansas seeing high transmission as vaccination efforts remain sluggish in some parts of the country. Data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) shows that the variant, which originated in India, has infected people at an uncomfortable rate over the past few weeks. On May 22, the variant accounted for only about 2.7% of cases, but as of last week it is now closer to 10% of all cases in the U.S., according to the CDC. However, the rate was already higher in some parts of the country with Missouri recording the variant as roughly 6.8% of cases in the state as of May 22. Kansas and other states with high rural populations have measured high rates of community spread over the past two weeks.
The Midwest and Mountain West states including Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska are recording a rate closer to 23.5% of all cases resulting from the Delta strain. Around 8% of counties in the U.S. have recorded a high level of transmission, with around half of the counties in the U.S. still showing a moderate level of transmission. Kansas, meanwhile, has closer to the national average with around 10% of cases from the Delta variant, ABC News reported. The variant was first detected in October and the CDC upgraded the variant from one “of interest” to one “of concern.”
“It shows us that what we’ve got in the community is a much more infectious variant that we are having to deal with, which shows why we have such an explosion of cases not just in Greene County, but in southwest Missouri,” Kendra Findley, administrator of community health and epidemiology with Green County, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Health officials have repeated warnings that the Delta strain is likely to become the dominant strain in the U.S. within the next few weeks as the rate appears to be on track to continue doubling week over week.
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“Right now in the U.S., it’s about 10% of infections doubling every two weeks, so it’s probably going to become the dominant strain here in the U.S.,” Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former head of the FDA, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” last week. “That doesn’t mean we’re going to see a sharp uptick in infections but it does mean that this is going to take over and I think the risk is really to the fall that this could spike a new epidemic heading into the fall,” he added.
However, health officials maintain that the current vaccines are still highly effective against the variant. Efficacy against the Delta variant appears to be around 88% – lower than the 95% that vaccines displayed against older variants, but still far more effective than the average flu vaccine by almost double. The Midwest states, though, have shown a sluggish administration of vaccine doses, with most states seeing under half of their population fully vaccinated at this point in time, according to Our World in Data. The CDC lists the Alpha, Beta, Epsilon, and Gamma variants as being “of concern,” while the Eta, Iota, Kappa, Delta, and Zeta remain variants of interest.
India Expresses Concerns Over Delta
The Delta Plus variant of the coronavirus has been declared by India as the one of concern, as more than two dozen cases have been detected in three states. This is the mutated version of the Delta variant, first found in India. The health ministry of India has advised Maharashtra, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh on the presence of the Delta Plus variant, which has been pegged as ‘variant of concern’ in certain districts of these states.
Union health secretary communicated to these three states that this variant has been found in genome sequenced samples from Ratnagiri and Jalgaon districts of Maharashtra, Palakkad and Pathanamthitta districts of Kerala, and Bhopal and Shivpuri district of Madhya Pradesh.
Here are the latest on the Delta Plus variant:
- The health ministry identified three characteristics of the Delta Plus variant – increased transmissibility, stronger binding to receptors of lung cells, and potential reduction in monoclonal antibody response.
- The chief secretaries of the three states have been advised to take up immediate containment measures in the districts and clusters, including preventing crowds and intermingling of people, widespread testing, prompt tracing as well as vaccine coverage on a priority basis.
- The health ministry also said that India is among the nine countries where the Delta Plus variant has been detected. It said that the variant has been detected in the US, UK, Portugal, Switzerland, Japan, Poland, Nepal, China and Russia.
- The clusters of the variant has been identified by the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium or INSACOG. The government has advised the states that their samples are sent to designated laboratories of INSACOG so that it can provide guidance based on the clinical epidemiological correlations.
- Twenty-two cases of the Delta Plus variant of the coronavirus have been detected in India, with 16 of them being reported from Maharashtra and the remaining from Madhya Pradesh and Kerala, according to the government.
- At a press conference, NitiAayog Member (Health) Dr VK Paul said there is a consistent improvement in the pandemic situation but stressed that people must continue to follow COvid-19-appropriate behaviour and avoid crowds and parties.
- Union health secretary Rajesh Bhushan said there has been an almost 90 per cent decline in India’s daily Covid-19 cases as compared to the highest peak reported on May 7.
- He also said that a sharp decline of 84 per cent in weekly positivity rate has been noted since the highest reported weekly positivity of 21.4 per cent, recorded between May 4 and 10.
- Over the past 24 hours India reported 42,640 new infections, the lowest since March 23, and 1,167 deaths.
- Infections now stand at 29.98 million, with a death toll of 389,302, health ministry data showed. (picture: The Guardian)