By Matt de Simone
The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) last week confirmed three cases of the COVID-19 delta variant in the Roanoke Valley discovered in June.
Variants of a virus are isn’t a new thing. The U.S. government put together an interagency group to develop a “scheme” pinpointing three different classes of the COVID variants: Variant of Interest, Variant of Concern, and Variant of High Consequence.
“Viruses can change as they replicate,” Dr. Cynthia Morrow, VDH Director for the Roanoke City and Alleghany Health Districts, explained in a recent interview. “When someone is infected with a virus—particularly, COVID-19—that virus reproduces constantly. It can change and mutate. We see that all the time with influenza, for example.”
She explained the reason people get a flu shot annually is that strains change. With the COVID delta variant, Morrow explained that while the core virus (SARS-CoV-2) is the same, it is mutating. In this situation, the recent change makes the delta variant more contagious.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, variants of interest require more public action, enhanced sequence surveillance, and further investigations to assess transmissibility.
Variants of concern show evidence of a more severe disease that increases transmissibility, hospitalizations, and deaths. Variants of high consequence show clear evidence that medical countermeasures have reduced effectiveness in combating the virus.
No variants of interest or high consequence are circulating locally. However, there are currently four variants circulating in the United States classified as variants of concern.
“The three [COVID] vaccines in the United States are highly effective at reducing hospitalizations and deaths associated with the delta variant,” Morrow continued. “It’s also very effective in reducing infection.”
She went on to mention that no COVID vaccine is 100 percent effective. Suppose a vaccinated person comes in contact with a delta variant. In that case, there is still a chance those vaccinated can still contract the virus. However, Morrow mentioned that being vaccinated “hugely” decreases the likelihood of growing seriously ill if contracting the delta variant.
As of the publication date, a little over 60 percent of the adult population in Botetourt County has received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine (30,812 doses administered by last Friday morning). Meaning, about 39 percent of the adult population of Botetourt County haven’t received their second dose, furthering the risk of contracting COVID-19 or a potential variant. Regarding vaccinations of the Botetourt population ranging from ages 19 and younger, 1,130 received at least one dose.
Dr. Morrow suggests vaccinations for those who have yet to receive their second dose, or those yet to receive any at all, will decrease the risk of the delta variant creeping into Botetourt County. She mentioned vaccinated individuals don’t need the use of a face mask when in the presence of others who are also vaccinated—there no restrictions. However, those vaccinated who are unsure about the vaccination status of others around them should still wear a mask.
As the virus continues to affect communities nationwide, Botetourt County’s Fire & EMS continue to administer the vaccine to residents to prevent a potential spread.
“Thus far, we haven’t received any particular data on the delta variant in our area (Botetourt) or any particular adjustments that we need to make in the continued fight against COVID,” Chief Jason Ferguson explained earlier last week.
“I know that we have taken part in the administration of over 800 vaccines through our in-house program,” Ferguson continued. “This program is unique in the region, in that our Fire & EMS department receives vaccine supply directly, and we are managing the local program above and beyond the Virginia Department of Health’s (VDH) efforts, in-house.”
Ultimately, the delta variant is here in the Roanoke Valley. The CDH will continue to provide updated information about the variant and those infected.
Before the confirmed delta cases, Morrow stated that the CDH “knew the delta variant was [in the Roanoke Valley]. It’s been across the country. This is proof of what we already knew.”
For access to the state’s COVID dashboard, visit https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/covid-19-vaccine-demographics/.