Health officials in North Texas are urging people to get vaccinated as cases of the delta variant rise locally and as it is the most dominant strain in the country, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
The delta variant, first identified in India, is a mutation of the coronavirus with increased transmissibility, according to the CDC.
Dr. Joe Chang, Chief Medical Officer for Parkland Health and Hospital Systems says that the delta variant is quickly becoming a dominant strain in North Dallas.
Chang estimated that 30-40% of cases in the area are the delta variant, and he expects that number to rise above 50% in the next few weeks. While Parkland does not test each COVID-19 case for a variant, Chang said Parkland expects the delta will become the dominant strain for admissions at the hospital. He said there has been an uptick in cases overall, but it is not known if they are all or mostly delta variants.
“Regardless of variant, vaccination will protect the community,” Chang said. “The main reason we are seeing a faster rise in cases in Tarrant County is that their vaccination rates are significantly lower than ours. Bottom line --- vaccinate!”
One of the reasons the county has a rising positivity rate, said Tarrant County Public Health Director Vinny Taneja as he presented at Commissioners Court, is the highly spreadable delta variant, as well as people who are unvaccinated.
State records show 48% of eligible Tarrant County residents are fully vaccinated, but that number drops to just 29% when you include those who are ineligible (children 11 and under).
Doctors say the symptoms of the delta variant are proving to be tricky to identify without a test.
“There’s not a dramatic difference in symptoms for the Delta variant versus the common cold, flu or the prior COVID variant. What is the difference is the severity of the symptoms,” Dr. Mark Casanova of Baylor Scott & White said. Casanova also serves on the Texas Medical Association’s COVID-19 task force.
Casanova says people are getting sicker faster and the delta variant appears to be affecting the healthier population. All the more reason, he says, to get vaccinated.
“If we lag behind, we only give this virus ample opportunity and every ingredient it needs to persist and get stronger like in COVID-19's case,” Casanova said.
Dr. David Winter from Baylor Scott & White Health joined Hannah Davis on Good Morning Texas on Tuesday. Here is his interview with questions from Hannah and viewers.
Send your questions to WFAA by texting us at 214-977-6028.
What is the delta strain of COVID and what do we need to know?
Dr. Winter: You said it, this variant is increasing in this country. As of last week, about 25% of all new cases were the delta variant. Now in England, more than 90% of all new cases and the anticipation is that that will be true in this country in the coming months. The reason: this is highly contagious, more contagious. It can spread easier than the other variants of coronavirus and the good news is all three vaccines in this country work against this. So it’s the unvaccinated folks that I’m concerned about, Hannah.
What I’ve heard in the past also is the more times the virus spreads, the more opportunity it has to mutate, making it more important to get this under control. Is that a concern that people are looking at?
Dr. Winter: Absolutely, as long as this virus is on this planet, it’s going to continue to change and modify and some of those modifications are more serious like this one right now (delta). It’s much more contagious so we’ve got to prevent the spread of this virus. The virus dies when it gets in your body and you get well, you killed it, but in the meantime, it’s spreading to someone else. Every time it spreads, it has a chance to change.
Questions from viewers, let’s get to our first one: Will we need boosters to protect against the new strains of the virus?
Dr. Winter: Very good question. We don’t know the answer yet, some are predicting probably not and some are saying with the new delta strain maybe. Time will tell with a brand new virus, new techniques, new way it spreads, new way it mutates so we don’t know the answer yet. But we could need a booster in the future. Right now, we’re not clear to the answer to that question.
I know this is always a changing circumstance. Last week, the World Health Organization came out and said they would encourage individuals to start wearing masks again in public, even if they’ve been vaccinated, with this new strain. What are your thoughts on that? Have you personally changed your behavior seeing the new information come in?
Dr. Winter: Yeah, I've tried to set the example myself by wearing one. I’m not sure if vaccinated how important that is, actually. In close settings, perhaps. If you’re not vaccinated, then it’s very very important. Of course, if you’re under age 12 kids can’t get a vaccine right now. So kids should consider wearing a mask in indoor settings around a lot of people.
This is a question I hear from a lot of folks: “We had Covid in January 2021, should we still get a vaccine?”
Dr. Winter: You are partially immune. But it’s very clear that the vaccine does a better job at immunity, so if you’ve had COVID, you might want to wait a month or so, so that your antibodies decline a little bit. You won’t have much of a reaction that way. The current advice: if you’ve had COVID you should still get a vaccine. You’ll be much better protected if you do.
The access we have. How is North Texas doing on those vaccination rates? What population is most at risk for the delta variant?
Dr. Winter: It’s highly variable. We’re seeing some cities and some areas have a lot of people vaccinated and some have much much less. Some of the rural areas are less than 30% vaccinated. Those folks are highly susceptible when this delta variant comes through. I may be concerned the whole area may come down with the virus. So we don’t have quite enough. We need 70 to 80% protection to get that, what we call, herd immunity. We’re not seeing that quite yet in Texas.
Another viewer question: “Should I be concerned as an elementary educator about the Delta variant spreading within the classroom/school since children under 12 can’t be vaccinated?”
Dr. Winter: Good idea to wear a mask while you’re there, disinfect your hands, wash your hands when you can. I like the shields that some schools have set up so you can’t cough and sneeze and spread those germs there. Keep 6 feet apart whenever you can. Yes, absolutely. If you have not been vaccinated and if you’re a young child of course you can’t get the vaccine under age 12. So those folks need to be very protected against this virus.
For people that are questioning the vaccine, what's the information you would give them? I'm not here to shame anybody but the information for people that might be a little resistant or leery about getting the vaccine, what should they know about the process and what went into this (vaccine)?
Dr. Winter: I get a lot of questions about that myself, Hannah. All I can tell you is this is the most successful vaccine we’ve had in a very very long time. It does work. We've not seen horrible side effects. Most folks get a sore arm, a little achy for a day or two. That’s it. It’s very successful and I would point out the fact that polio, an awful disease that my parents had to deal with, it’s gone in this country. It’s still on the planet in a couple countries overseas because those folks don’t have vaccines.
This is as good as the polio vaccine. It’ll prevent this virus from spreading, it’ll prevent this from making us all sick. In fact, if you’ve had the vaccine, you’re almost guaranteed that you will not die, you will not get seriously ill, you will not have to go to the hospital at worse, you might have a mild case of it, but we’re not seeing very much of that. It’s a wonderful vaccine. I don’t see any long-term side effects at all. I encourage everyone to think logically about this. We need to protect ourselves because it’s a nasty virus.
Why is this strain so much more contagious?
Dr. Winter: It has some affinity to the lung receptors in our bodies so it gets in there quicker and then it multiples much much faster. You know, when viruses mutate what they’re trying to do is they’re trying to form a new type of tool to be more successful.
Most are fatal, most mutations are ones that don’t work but occasionally you find ones that do work and when it does work it takes over the planet as the most successful virus yet. That's what we’re seeing right now. This delta variant could be much more contagious and will be spread more rapidly and we better get prepared for it.
WFAA reporter Charlotte Huffman contributed to this report.