New data is showing that the Delta variant of Covid-19 is now the most prevalent strain in the United States.
The development and spread of different variants of the coronavirus are familiar news stories to us by now. Although variants--different varieties of the virus that have adapted or evolved to differently invade their hosts--were first largely known for the regions in which they became most prominent (the UK variant, the South African variant, the California variant), these different types of the same virus are now being named using Greek letters; Alpha, Beta, and so on.
Covid variant B.1.617.2, or the Delta Variant, was first discovered in India in December of 2020. It cut a wide path of destruction through that country's population; as of July 2, 2021, Covid and the Delta variant has led to a death toll of over 400,000 in India (and more than 30 million infections).
Perhaps the most unnerving aspect of this latest variant is its extreme transmissibility; experts have speculated that it is 40-60% more transmissible than even the Alpha variant (one of the first variants that spread very quickly in the UK and worldwide). As of July 7, the Delta variant is making up half of all the new Covid infections in the US, and has been particularly aggressive in states with lower vaccination rates.
But how worried should we be about the Delta variant in Wisconsin?
In Wisconsin, since the beginning of the pandemic, there have been 613,484 confirmed cases of the virus (and 7,335 deaths). The number of new cases reported has fallen drastically; in June 2021, there have been fewer new cases and deaths reported than at any other time since the beginning of the pandemic. As of June 24, the number of Wisconsinites who had completed their full vaccine series was 2,668,640 (45.8% of the total population).
Studies are indicating that those who have been vaccinated are at lower risk for catching the virus, and have fewer severe consequences from the virus, if they do still happen to become infected with it. Although scientists are getting different results from studies in different parts of the world, the data gathered so far indicates that our current vaccines do offer some level of protection against the Delta variant. Carl Zimmer, writing in The New York Times, says that " most Covid-19 vaccines are very effective at keeping people out of the hospital and have generally protected against the Delta variant."
Regions of the country where vaccination rates are lower are also reporting higher rates of new Covid cases. When thinking about risk in Wisconsin, one important variable might be the vaccination rate in your area or county. In Dane County, 71.34% of the population has received at least one dose of a vaccine; in Milwaukee County, that number is 48.38%; in Rock County, 50% of the population has received at least one dose. Some counties in the northern and central part of the state have lower rates, like Marinette County reporting 41.46% of their population have received at least one dose.
In general, Wisconsin is a state where larger proportions of the population have received vaccinations, especially when compared to such states as Wyoming or several southern states.
Wisconsin's relatively higher rates of vaccinations should help provide some protection against Delta, but doctors and others continue to counsel vigilance against the virus. On July 6, Dr. Jeff Pothof said, when speaking on WISC-TV in Madison, that "with Delta out there, there may be school boards considering mask mandates for those younger grades, K through 6, if Delta variants are in those communities, until they can get vaccinated."
Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) Secretary-designee Karen Timberlake also suggests ways to protect against future outbreaks: "With half of our population not yet vaccinated, the use of mitigation strategies such as getting tested if you have COVID-19 symptoms, staying home, and keeping your distance from others when you are sick will help bring us to the finish-line."
In June of 2021, state health officials also noted that non-Covid respiratory illnesses were being reported at higher rates than are usual for June, making it even more important for those with symptoms such as fevers, coughs, and runny noses to isolate and to be tested.
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