U.S. counties in the South and West are seeing an increase in coronavirus cases as the Indian ‘Delta’ variant continues to spread rapidly in undervaccinated areas.
Areas in states such as Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Wyoming are reporting between 100 and 500 cases per 100,000 people over the last seven days, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
This is much higher than the national average of 23.9 infections per 100,000.
Health officials say low vaccination rates are the problem and that the virus is transmitting rapidly in undervaccinated regions of the U.S.
All five states have vaccinated fewer than 35 percent of their total populations, which is lower than the national average of 45.6 percent, CDC data show.
The states are also all reporting a rise in cases linked to the Delta variant, with some saying more than half of all new infections are associated with the strain.
Former FDA commissioner Dr Scott Gottlieb has warned that America is likely to see constrained outbreaks of the Delta variant in certain communities rather than widespread outbreaks.
‘It’s not going to be as pervasive,’ he said in an appearance on CBS’ Face the Nation on Sunday,
‘It’s going to hyper-regionalized. There’s certain pockets of the country where you’re going to have very dense outbreaks.’
Meanwhile, Los Angeles residents are being urged to mask up again – two weeks after the county dropped its mask mandate – amid concerns about the variant.
It comes as the variant continues to ravage the UK, with Delta driving an explosion of new cases, and COVID-19 infections up 75 percent from a week ago, but deaths have not risen.
Counties in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Wyoming (marked in red) reported between 100 and 500 cases per 100,000 in the last week, compared to the national average of 23.9 cases per 100,000
Arkansas has seen an average of 300 cases per day in the last week, an increase from 200 the last month, and 56% of all cases and, in Mississippi, there has been 18% increase in the seven-day rolling average of cases from 111 to 132
All five states have fully vaccinated 35% or fewer residents, lower than the national average of 45.6%, and only three counties between the five have fully vaccinated more than 50%
As of Tuesday, the variant accounts for 20.6 percent of all COVID-19 infections, up from 9.9 percent two weeks ago, according to the CDC.
Known as B.1.617.2, the Delta variant has been labeled as a ‘double mutant’ by India’s Health Ministry because it carries two mutations: L452R and E484Q.
L452R is the same mutation seen with the California homegrown variant and E484Q is similar to the mutation seen in the Brazilian and South African variants.
Both of the mutations occur on key parts of the virus that allows it to enter and infect human cells.
Gottlieb says he believes that the massive surge in cases in the UK is a foreshadowing of what’s to come in the U.S.
That means the 20 percent figure is only expected to rise.
‘I think as you look across the United States, if you’re a community that has low vaccination rates and you also think that there was low immunity from prior infection, so the virus really hasn’t coursed through the local population, those communities are vulnerable,’ he told Face the Nation .
‘So, I think governors need to be thinking about how they build out health care resources in areas of the country where you still have a lot of vulnerability.’
Only three counties in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Wyoming have fully vaccinated more than 50 percent of residents.
In one of the states – Arkansas – officials report that only has 35 percent of the total population have completed their vaccine series.
Arkansas has seen an average of 300 cases per day, an increase from 200 the last month, and health officials say the Delta variant is to blame.
Currently, 56 percent of all cases in the state that undergo genetic sequencing are linked to Delta.
Health experts say low vaccination rates will help the Indian ‘Delta’ variant spread, which currently makes up 20% of American cases, up from 9.9% two weeks ago
Former FDA commissioner Dr Scott Gottlieb said on Sunday (pictured) he expects outbreaks of the Indian ‘Delta’ variant to rise in areas with low vaccination rates
‘That tells us that the variant is spreading widely and that it’s spreading quickly,’ Dr Jennifer Dillaha, the Director of Epidemiology for the Arkansas Department of Health told Action News 5.
‘My concern is that if people are not immune to it, then this variant will find them and infect them and cause illness.’
Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas said hospitalizations are up 30 percent and encouraged residents to get vaccinated.
‘The Delta variant is a great concern to us. We see that impacting our increasing cases and hospitalizations,’ Hutchinson told Face the Nation.
‘We’ve got to make sure we do everything we can to get the word out, which we have. We have used incentives that have not been very successful. We’ve obviously done marketing for our vaccines. We are educating, doing everything we can.’
In Mississippi, health officials said there a growing number of cases linked to the Delta variant.
According to WAPT, state epidemiologist Dr Paul Byers said there have been at least 60 cases associated with the variant since the fist infection was identified a few weeks ago.
The state is currently averaging 132 COVID-19 infections per day, an 18 percent increase from 111 from earlier this month.
Meanwhile, less than 30 percent of the population is fully vaccinated.
‘The vaccine is still effective against it, but remember that a vaccine is not 100 percent,’ Byers said.
‘And when you have an individual in congregate settings in very close contact and put in a place with highly infectious variants, there is a possibility of transmission.’
Meanwhile in the UK, officials recorded 22,868 new cases of COVID-19, which is the most reported since late January.
This is a 1040 percent increase from 2,000 cases recorded in late April, when the Delta variant first took hold.
MODERNA SAYS ITS COVID-19 VACCINE WORKS AGAINST VARIANTS INCLUDING THE DELTA STRAIN IN LAB TESTS
Moderna Inc says its COVID-19 vaccine works against coronavirus variant, including the rapidly spreading Indian ‘Delta’ strain.
The company tested blood sampes of eight patients one week after they’d gotten their second and final dose of the vaccine.
In laboratory settings in which the blood was mixed with variants, the two-dose shot generated high levels of neutralizing antibodies against all mutants tested.
‘These new data are encouraging and reinforce our belief that the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine should remain protective against newly detected variants,’ CEO Stéphane Bancel said in a press release.
‘These findings highlight the importance of continuing to vaccinate populations with an effective primary series vaccine.’
Antibody levels only fell by 2.1-fold against the Delta variant (fifth from the right), much less than among other variants, and fell the least against the Kent ‘Alpha’ variant (second from left)
For the study, published as a pre-print on bioRxiv.org, the team looked at how well blood samples performed against 16 virus variants, including the original strain.
Researchers took samples from eight people who participated in Phase I clinical trials in 2020 one week after their second dose.
Next, the blood sera was exposed to each variant.
Results showed the vaccine worked the best against the Alpha variant, known as B.1.1.7, which originated in the UK, with minimal changes in neutralizing antibodies compared to the original strain.
All other variants showed a decrease in neutralizing antibodies but not enough to lose protection.
Against the Beta variant which originated in South Africa and the Gamma variant, which originated in Brazil, levels of neutralizing antibodies fell by 6.9-fold and 3.2-fold, respectively.
However, against the Delta variant, levels fell by just 2.1-fold, which was less than seen among all other variants.