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A top U.S. public health official said Thursday that the Delta variant of COVID-19 is one of the most infectious respiratory diseases scientists have ever encountered, further underscoring the danger the more transmissible variant poses to unvaccinated people.
“The Delta variant is more aggressive and much more transmissible than previously circulating strains,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told reporters Thursday. “It is one of the most infectious respiratory viruses we know of, and that I have seen in my 20-year career.”
The Delta variant first emerged in India during that country’s devastating and record-shattering wave of infections earlier this year, which at one point in early May totaled more than 400,000 cases per day. A study published earlier this week found that India’s death toll from the virus could be in the millions.
Since then, the Delta variant has ripped its way throughout the rest of the world, spiking cases even in countries with high rates of vaccination, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and Israel. The Delta variant now makes up more than 80 percent of cases in the United States, Walensky said earlier this week.
After the U.S. hit a low of fewer than 10,000 cases in June, cases are now rising in every state in the country and hitting states and counties with low vaccination rates—such as Missouri, Louisiana, Arkansas, and parts of Florida—particularly hard. A projection released earlier this week suggested that there could be as many as 60,000 cases and 850 deaths per day by mid-October.
While data from Israel and the U.K. is mixed on how effective the mRNA vaccines are against preventing Delta infections, the vaccines appear to maintain a high level of protection against severe illness and disease resulting from the Delta variant.
As of July 19, the CDC had recorded fewer than 6,000 hospitalizations or deaths of people who were fully vaccinated and then tested positive, though more than a quarter of those hospitalizations and deaths were either unrelated to COVID-19 or the person was asymptomatic. And while hospitalizations are rising as well, they’re increasing at a slower pace than cases—53 percent and 30 percent, respectively, over the past two weeks, as opposed to a 180 percent spike in cases, according to the New York Times’ COVID-19 tracker.
On the bright side, it appears that at least some areas that are currently getting slammed with infections have seen an uptick in vaccinations. In Greene County, Missouri, where the average number of cases per day is more than double that of the state—which itself is the fourth-highest in the country—there have been more vaccinations in the first three weeks of July than there were in all of June, NBC News reported Thursday.
“We almost ran out of vaccine about a week ago just because the increase we saw didn’t match what we expected,” the vice president of one Springfield, Missouri community health center told NBC News. “I think there is a growing fear of getting Covid that is overwhelming the fear of the vaccine.”