According to the CDC, the aggressive delta variant now accounts for more than 50% of new COVID-19 cases, officially making it the dominant variant in the United States. The speed with which the delta variant overtook its competition is remarkable; a month ago, it was only making its first inroads here after burning through parts of Asia and Europe. However, its 4-week progress from under 1 in 10 to more than half of domestic cases tells us that managing the delta variant -- or something equally aggressive that has yet to emerge -- will be a major part of how the U.S. deals with its long-term COVID-19 response.
First, the good news: despite the delta variant’s highly infectious nature, all of the major vaccines are thus far highly effective at preventing serious illness, hospitalization, and death. That said, early evidence indicates that at least some vaccines are substantially less effective at entirely preventing illness, which opens the door for even fully vaccinated people to become carriers, putting non-vaccinated populations at risk. We’ve seen this already in other parts of the world, with the delta variant accounting for case surges in highly vaccinated countries like Israel and the U.K.
This threat is even more pronounced in certain parts of the U.S. While the country’s total vaccination rate is around 47%, vaccinated individuals are unevenly distributed, with some regions of the country lagging significantly behind, creating large pockets of opportunity for the delta variant to become entrenched. For example, CDC data indicates that the delta variant accounts for 74.3% of new cases in the Colorado, Montana, North and South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming region, and a full 80.7% of new cases in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska. Even outside of these hotspots, COVID-19 cases are trending upward in nearly half of all U.S. states according to data provided by Johns Hopkins University. All told, it’s a sign that much of the country remains significantly vulnerable to the delta variant’s aggressiveness, which could jeopardize reopening strategies.
For an idea of how that might happen, consider a recent outbreak of cases in a Galveston, Texas-area church camp. The camp, which took place in late June, hosted around 400 campers and staff. By July 3, this led to at least 125 positive COVID-19 cases both among camp participants and the surrounding community, despite the fact that all participants were required to test negative for the disease prior to attending. Critically, some of the cases were confirmed to be the delta variant, and at least six are vaccine breakthrough cases. With the delta variant only gaining ground, it’s reasonable to assume that stories like this will become more common -- and they may prove to be more severe as well.
Vaccines are our best defense against the virus, but we know they’re imperfect, and a simply bookending activities with testing may not be able to confirm outbreaks in time to monitor and intercept them effectively, especially not when dealing with something as aggressive as the delta variant. In order to protect ourselves, it’s absolutely necessary to supplement vaccination efforts with fully-integrated, accessible, and easy COVID-19 testing capabilities in order to disrupt potential outbreaks before they break containment.
If you want to know how to implement a comprehensive, affordable testing strategy to protect your customers and employees, contact us.