A strain of the coronavirus that transmits more rapidly and easily, known as the Delta variant, is currently not widespread in Dane County, a local public health spokeswoman said Tuesday.
The Delta variant, first discovered in India last October, is forcing countries across the Asia-Pacific region to reinforce lockdown measures to tamp down outbreaks and is responsible for one in five coronavirus cases. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, said June 22 that the Delta variant is “currently the greatest threat in the U.S. to our attempt to eliminate COVID-19.”
In Dane County, the variant does not have a stronghold.
“While we know the Delta variant has been making headlines lately, Delta does not seem to be prevalent in Dane County yet,” Public Health communications coordinator Morgan Finke said in an email.
Finke said Public Health is not revising guidance on COVID-19 precautions at this time. Earlier this month, Public Health lifted its orders, including capacity limits and face-covering requirements.
The World Health Organization is urging fully vaccinated people to continue wearing masks and take other precautions, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in May told vaccinated Americans they could forgo masks and social distancing.
The concern is that the variant could spread among people who are not vaccinated. In Dane County, 64.5% of people have been fully vaccinated.
“The more people who are vaccinated, the less the virus or its variants can take hold in a community,” Finke said.
The Delta variant, or B.1.617.2, was first discovered in the United States in March, and Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services began tracking it in June. There are currently 36 cases of the Delta variant in Wisconsin, according to DHS.
Studies show the Delta variant spreads more rapidly and easily than the original strain of COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2. Though precise estimates vary, the strain could be 50% more contagious than the Alpha variant.
Experts say fully vaccinated people are protected against the variant. Finke said the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines work well, though it’s important to receive both doses, and that researchers are still studying Johnson & Johnson vaccine's level of protection.
Further mutations of the virus can be prevented if more people in a community are vaccinated, according to DHS.
In a briefing last week, Dr. Ryan Westergaard, chief medical officer and state epidemiologist for communicable diseases at the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, said now is the time to “build up our protection” against a possible seasonal surge.
Westergaard said the Delta variant tends to "outcompete" or become the dominant strain everywhere that it has had time to circulate.
“With more transmissible or more contagious variants... we need a higher percentage of people to be vaccinated to prevent outbreaks and prevent cases from growing into the community,” Westergaard said.
Across the state, 46.7% of Wisconsin residents have completed the COVID-19 vaccine series.
Westergaard said there’s no evidence that the Delta variant causes more severe cases. But more infected people will lead to more people getting sick, being hospitalized and dying, he said.
“We really want to get ahead of this,” Westergaard said. “We want to get high levels of vaccinations before we see this more transmissible variant really take over and become the predominant strain in our region.”
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