DALLAS — COVID-19 cases are rising again in North Texas, and medical experts say the surge is driven by the Delta variant, a more contagious strain that is spreading among unvaccinated people.
If you're vaccinated, there's still a chance you can catch COVID-19, though symptoms have generally been reported as less severe, if none at all.
But if you do test positive for COVID-19, how do you know if you have the Delta variant? And are the symptoms different than other strains of the virus?
We asked Dallas health experts about how COVID-19 variants are tested, and how the Delta variant is different from the others.
How will you know if you have the Delta variant?
You likely won't know, at least not when you're initially tested for the virus.
If you test positive, most tests won't tell you what strain of the virus you have, said Dr. David Winter, Director of Internal Medicine at Baylor Scott & White hospital in Dallas.
"We don't always know [the variant] when we do the regular tests," Winter said. "We do that in epidemiological studies ... The routine testing for COVID-19 will just tell you if you have the coronavirus. It doesn't tell you what strain you might have."
Health officials are able to identify COVID-19 strains through genetic sequencing, a process different from a standard COVID-19 test.
For example, earlier this month, Parkland's chief medical officer, Dr. Joe Chang, estimated that 30-40% of new COVID-19 cases in North Texas were of the delta variant. But that was an estimate because, as Chang explained, it would be impractical for Parkland to test every COVID-19 test for genetic sequencing to identify the specific variant.
At UT Southwestern, researchers have tested all positive COVID-19 tests for genetic sequencing and confirmed "a substantial increase" in cases of the Delta variant.
Still, statewide, only a small sample of COVID-19 test samples are tested for genetic sequencing, "so there are more variant cases in Texas than have been reported to DSHS," according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Dr. James Cutrell, an infectious diseases specialist at UT Southwestern, said the treatment for a COVID-19 patient is generally the same, regardless of which variant they have.
"Most individuals are not going to know or find out what strain they had," Cutrell said. "That's more for epidemiological or public health purposes."
What are the symptoms for the Delta variant?
Like other strains of the virus, symptoms from the delta variant include congestion and cold-like symptoms, as well as shortness of breath. One differentiator noted by Winter and other experts: The delta variant hasn't been shown to result in a loss of taste or smell, unlike other strains of COVID-19.
Cutrell said the Delta variant has shown to lead to more severe symptoms of COVID-19, with about a two-fold higher risk of leading to hospitalization.
"The main difference is it's much more contagious or easier transmissible," Cutrell said, "as well as it looks like it could lead to more severe disease."
Will your vaccine protect you from the Delta variant?
Despite "breakthrough" cases of vaccinated people getting COVID-19, Winter and other experts say all vaccines work to prevent the spread of COVID-19, along with lessening symptoms of the virus.
Cutrell emphasized that people should be fully vaccinated -- both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna, or the single-dose of Johnson & Johnson -- to have a better chance of experiencing less severe symptoms.
What are the latest COVID-19 numbers for North Texas?
According to UT Southwestern's latest data report Wednesday, hospitalizations for COVID-19 are up 43% from last week, 89% from two weeks ago and 156% from a month ago. Those numbers are in line with the rise in cases and hospitalizations that researchers have noted in recent weeks.
For Dallas County, the Southwestern report projected 400-500 hospitalizations by Aug. 9. For Tarrant County, the report projected 520-700 hospitalizations by Aug. 9.
Southwestern's data modeling report last week projected that North Texas could return to summer 2020 levels of COVID-19 transmission by this fall, if vaccination rates stay the same.