COVID-19 transmission rate increases as delta variant spreads despite vaccination status
As the COVID-19 delta variant spreads across America, particularly in unvaccinated communities such as in the south, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has announced the highly contagious and more severe variant may be as transmissible in vaccinated individuals as in unvaccinated cases.
However, the risk of severe disease or death in those who are infected by the delta variant is reduced 10-fold in vaccinated individuals, according to the CDC.
“The vaccine works well for preventing serious disease and death from the delta variant,” said Barbara Hemmendinger, a retired family medicine educator and member of the Lycoming County Health Improvement Coalition.
However, even if the vaccine prevents more deadly symptoms related to COVID-19’s delta variant, Hemmendinger said the CDC is discovering that vaccinated individuals are able to spread the delta variant.
“It’s been found even vaccinated people who do get infected with the delta variant harbor as many viral particles in their throat and nasal passages as do unvaccinated people,” Hemmendinger said.
This is why last week, the CDC recommended people who live in areas that have substantial or high rates of transmission wear masks when indoors.
Lycoming, Clinton and Union Counties fall into the “moderate” range, but Clearfield County is the nearest area that represents a substantial rate of transmission.
“Nobody wants to have to become so vigilant about the spread of the virus,” Hemmendinger said. “But had more people gotten vaccinated early on, we would not be in this place. Vaccination is still the way of closing this down.”
Cases are drastically increasing across Lycoming County, Hemmendinger said, although the recorded rate of transmission still clocks in under 5 percent.
In Lycoming County from July 24-31, there were 34 cases per 100,000 residents — a 126.7 percent increase. Meanwhile, the county had five new hospitalizations, although none of them are in the ICU, Hemmendinger said.
As of July 17, between 65.6 percent and 69.4 percent of COVID-19 cases in the mid-Atlantic region were attributed to the delta variant strain.
“All these counties where there are low vaccination rates are sitting targets,” Hemmendinger said.
Last week, the CDC’s guidance over masking changed, suggesting those in substantial infection areas mask up indoors — vaccinated or not. Additionally, the CDC recommends all K-12 schools require masking for students regardless of if they are vaccinated or not.
“Delta is coming to unvaccinated people near you, and there is still time for them, including students 12 and up who are returning to school in September, to get vaccinated before northcentral Pa. is heavily impacted,” Hemmendinger said.
While children are less likely to get sick from COVID-19, they are as efficient as anyone else at spreading it.
“They can take it home to vulnerable family members such as immunocompromised parents. Those who are in chemotherapy or might have had an organ transplant,” Hemmendinger said.
Hemmendinger also said those who are unvaccinated or who are vaccinated and are in close contact with unvaccinated or immunocompromised people can choose to mask indoors in public places now to be on the safe side.
The nation has finally reached President Joe Biden’s Independence Day milestone for COVID-19 vaccinations; today, 70 percent of adults in the United States have received one dose of any vaccine.
The United States’ population is currently at 49.7 percent vaccinated, slightly behind Pennsylvania’s rate of 53 percent. Meanwhile, Union County leads the area with a 47.6 percent vaccination rate, followed by Lycoming County’s 42.1 percent and Clinton County’s 34.8 percent.
Despite increasing breakthrough cases proportional to increased rates of vaccination and testing, all three authorized COVID-19 vaccines hold up against serious disease and hospitalization from the delta variant once people are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
Still, people who test positive for the COVID-19 delta variant are more likely to report symptoms of runny nose, sore throat and headache, rather than complaints of fever and loss of smell that were common with earlier strains.
Although testing has ramped down in recent months, according to Hemmendinger, individuals who want to be tested for COVID-19 can schedule an appointment with the Williamsport Rite Aid pharmacy for free, at the River Valley Health and Dental Center or upon provider referral at UPMC Susquehanna and Williamsport MedExpress.
Additionally, River Valley Health and Dental Center will provide vaccinations from 9 a.m. to noon Thursday, Aug. 12, at the center in Hepburn Plaza to celebrate Children’s Health Day.