Delta variant seeps into FL; health experts warn it could be more transmissible than other strains

By: - June 21, 2021 4:24 pm

Novel coronavirus SARS CoV2, which causes COVID-19. Meanwhile, new COVID mutations called variants are now spreading across the U.S., including the Delta variant. Microphotography by National Institute on Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

A new coronavirus mutation — the so-called Delta variant — has seeped into Florida and dozens of other states, with federal officials saying it could become the dominant strain in the country.

First identified in India, Delta is classified as a “variant of concern” by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention because of its “increased transmissibility.”

The CDC also noted on its website that the Delta variant known as B.1.617.2, has a “potential reduction” in vaccine effectiveness and it is more transmissible than earlier strains such as B.1.1.7, which was first identified in the United Kingdom.

On Friday, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, warned that the Delta variant “could become the dominant strain in the United States,” according to ABC News.

But last week, Gov. Ron DeSantis appeared to downplay the Delta variant, in remarks following the governor and Florida Cabinet meeting.

“I think it gets put out there in ways designed to frighten people but the U.K. study I think pretty conclusively showed that this is an impact effective with vaccine…there is very good evidence that the vaccines have been proven to be effective.”

DeSantis also urged Floridians, especially people from vulnerable groups to get vaccinated, saying “we have a surplus of vaccines available to folks.”

CDC data shows that so far Florida has 70 cases of the Delta variant. The CDC has been tracking the variants of concern, using samples from state health departments and other agencies. Florida has the highest number of variant cases, 5,552, among the states.

Other variant cases in Florida are mostly the United Kingdom variant, B.1.1.7., followed by P.1., the Brazil/Japan strain.

The states with the highest number of Delta variant cases are now in California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Texas and Florida, according to the CDC.

“The more transmissible variants, such as Delta, are concerning because more transmission will mean more cases, more hospitalizations, and more deaths,” Marissa Lee, registered nurse at Osceola Medical Center in Kissimmee, said in an email to the Florida Phoenix.

“The existence of potentially more transmissible variants underlines the importance of taking steps to prevent transmission,” said Lee, who is a member of the National Nurses United that represents RNs nationwide.

“Because some variants may be vaccine resistant, we need to maintain precautions. People should continue to wear masks indoors and in crowds,” Lee said.

The Phoenix is awaiting a response from the Florida Department of Health regarding the number of variant cases in each of the 67 counties. The Phoenix has been tracking the variant cases through use of public records requests by the state health department.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization has also been tracking the Delta strain and held a press conference Wednesday, where epidemiologists discussed issues surrounding the strain, such as its potential threat to public health.

During the conference, WHO officials said the Delta variant could potentially cause more severe illness, but studies are still underway.

“We do have demonstrated increased transmissibility. There are several studies that are underway that have shown this,” said Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, COVID-19 technical lead at WHO.

“Any increase in transmissibility makes controlled measures that much harder. We have seen some reports about increased severity in the Delta variant. Those studies do need to be confirmed.”

Dr. Michael Teng, associate professor of medicine at the University of South Florida and virologist, said in a telephone interview with the Phoenix that he has been advocating for residents “to get fully vaccinated” to protect themselves from the new variant.

“If you get the second dose, the effectiveness is very high,” Teng said. “They are still trying to figure out if it (Delta variant) causes more severe disease. A lot of our information is based on what we see in the U.K.”

According to the New York Times, the Delta variant “makes up between six and 10 percent of cases in the United States.”

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Issac Morgan
Issac Morgan

Issac Morgan is a 2009 graduate of Florida A&M University's School of Journalism, and a proud native of Tallahassee. He has covered city council and community events at the Gadsden County Times, worked as a sports news assistant at the Tallahassee Democrat, a communications specialist for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and as a proofreader at the Florida Law Weekly.