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Alaska health officials discuss delta variant concerns, higher case counts

Published: Jul. 14, 2021 at 8:23 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - There’s heightened concern around the state, country and world as the delta variant of the novel coronavirus, first identified in India late last year, is making its way across the globe, contributing to higher COVID-19 cases and hospital counts.

In Alaska, it’s no different. It was first detected here at the end of May. According to Wednesday’s Alaska Sequencing Consortium situation report, 58 total delta variant cases have been identified in Alaska since the variant since it was first detected. Twenty-one new cases have been added to the count since last week’s report.

Delta’s transmissibility

“Delta is quickly taking over as the predominant strain not only in the United States but also in Alaska,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin.

According to the weekly situation report, the delta variant has been found in multiple locations across the state.

McLaughlin said current data shows the delta variant is about 50% more transmissible than the alpha variant, first discovered in the United Kingdom, which is about 50% more transmissible than the original strain from Wuhan, China.

“If that continues to pan out, and it is actually shown that that the delta is 50% more transmissible than the alpha, then it is the most transmissible strain of the virus that we have seen,” he said.

McLaughlin expects the delta variant will continue as the dominant strain for a while.

“Anything’s possible it seems with COVID,” he said. “I wouldn’t hang my hat on the delta being the most transmissible version of the variant that we’ll ever see. I think that it’s very possible that there could be new variants that come out that are even more transmissible.”

Delta’s impact on hospitalization, case numbers

Hospitals across the country are dealing with the delta variant. According to McLaughlin, at least five people in Alaska have been hospitalized with the variant, and one person with that variant of COVID-19 has died.

McLaughlin said there is a recent study from Scotland that suggests the delta variant me be more capable of causing severe illness.

“The virus has just mutated in such a way that it makes it easier for it to enter into the host cells and get people sick. And so that is quite concerning,” he said.

Alaska’s case count is creeping back up. McLaughlin said the state’s daily count is now reaching into triple digits for the first time in a while.

“I think much of this is attributable to the delta variant,” he said.

Delta’s vaccine breakthrough

Jayme Parker, chief of the Alaska State Public Health Laboratories, said about 30-32% of the positive tests in Alaska are being sequenced.

“We’re seeing other variants of concern, not just delta variants,” Parker said. “We’re still seeing a good number of alpha variants as well.”

When it comes to breakthrough cases, the situation report shows that of the tests that have been successfully sequenced, only about 10 delta variant cases were found in June in vaccinated people, while the state saw about 15 alpha cases in vaccinated people in June.

The state public health labs are sequencing all of the specimens they receive. However, the process takes two to three weeks, so the data is always a bit behind.

According to McLaughlin, vaccines seem to be generally quite effective against this variant.

People who do have vaccine breakthrough cases typically see less severe symptoms. McLaughlin said those cases tend to be associated with fewer hospitalizations and deaths.

Parker said anyone with any COVID-19 symptoms should get tested, regardless of vaccination status.

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