This Is the State Where the Delta Variant Is Spreading Fastest, Experts Say
The percentage of cases attributed to the variant of concern are higher here than anywhere else.
Ever since the U.S. reached the milestone of getting at least one dose of the COVID vaccine in the arms of 50 percent of adults, things have taken a turn for the better in the States. After the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) loosened its guidelines on wearing masks in May, summer 2021 started to look more normal than anything we've seen in more than a year. But recently, public health experts' tone has started to change from one of celebration to one of warning. And it's all because of the Delta variant, B.1.617.2, the most recent variant of concern. The CDC has reported that "there is evidence that this variant spreads easily from person to person," and it's starting to become increasingly prevalent in the U.S. In one state in particular, numbers are growing at a startling rate. Read on to find out where the Delta variant is spreading fastest.
Missouri currently has the highest percentage of COVID cases from the Delta variant.
The Delta variant, which was first identified in India and caused a deadly surge there early in 2021, makes up about 10 percent of U.S. COVID cases nationwide. As the Associated Press reported earlier this week, the Delta variant has increased from 2.7 percent of all cases in May to 9.7 percent already in June, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, said during a call with governors on June 14. Shortly thereafter, it was named a variant of concern by the CDC.
Forbes reports that in two of the 10 regions the CDC monitors—which include Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming—the Delta variant accounts for around 25 percent of cases, a substantial increase from around 7 percent two weeks prior.
But in one state, and one area in particular, the numbers are far more dire: Missouri. The CDC data shows it has a higher percentage of cases of the Delta variant than any other at the moment. On June 16, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services issued a statement saying that the state "is experiencing a rise in individuals contracting the Delta variant," which "has become prevalent in communities throughout Missouri."
The state also saw one of the biggest increases in new COVID cases over the past two weeks, up 52 percent, behind only bordering Arkansas with 59 percent, according to The New York Times data as of June 19.
And one area in particularly is seeing the Delta variant take over.
Southwestern Missouri has been hit the hardest. "What we've got in the community is a much more infectious variant that we are having to deal with, which shows why we have such an explosion of cases not just in Greene County, but in southwest Missouri," Kendra Findley, administrator of community health and epidemiology with Greene County, told the St. Louis Dispatch on June 17.
Steve Edwards, the president and CEO of CoxHealth, a health care system in southwest Missouri, told NPR recently that they've seen a fivefold increase in hospitalizations. "They're younger, and they're sicker, and they're coming in later, and there's less we can do for them if they come in later," he said on June 18. Edwards told NPR that the Greene County Health Department reports that 90 percent of all new cases are the Delta variant. Other hospital executives in the area have reported similar surges in COVID patients.
"This Delta variant came from nowhere," Edwards noted. "Five weeks ago, I think we were less than 10 percent; now we're 90 percent. So I anticipate that the greater part of the South, the greater part of the Midwest, and those areas with low vaccination rates are going to see a wave of patients similar to what they saw last fall and last winter."
Scott Gottlieb, MD, former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), similarly predicted recently that areas with lower vaccination rates would see numbers climb as a result of the new variant. The state of Missouri as a whole has low vaccination rates, with less than 37 percent of its population fully vaccinated as of June 17, according to CDC data compiled by Becker's Hospital Review. "In parts of the country where you have less vaccination, particularly in parts of the south, where you have some cities where vaccination rates are low, there's a risk that you could see outbreaks with this new variant," he told CBS's Face the Nation on June 13.
The CDC director and other experts predict the Delta variant will become the dominant strain in the U.S.
Walensky told Good Morning America on June 18 that she expects the Delta variant to become dominant in the U.S. in the coming weeks. "It's more transmissible than the Alpha variant, or the U.K. variant, that we have here," she said. "We saw that quickly become the dominant strain in a period of one or two months, and I anticipate that is going to be what happens with the Delta strain here."
Walensky encouraged unvaccinated Americans to get their shot in order to "be protected against this Delta variant." She said: "As worrisome as this Delta strain is with regard to its hyper transmissibility, our vaccines work."
Gottlieb similarly told Face the Nation that the Delta variant is "concerning." "It's going to continue to spread," he added. "It appears to be more transmissible."
The former FDA commissioner explained that the Delta variant's prevalence is doubling every 14 days. "It's probably going to become the dominant strain here in the United States," he cautioned. "This could spike a new epidemic heading into the fall."
President Biden warned young people in particular to be wary of the Delta variant.
As President Joe Biden's deadline to get 70 percent of U.S. adults vaccinated with at least one shot by July 4 grows nearer, he's issuing warnings about the Delta variant, as well. During a White House press conference on June 18, Biden said the Delta variant "will leave unvaccinated people even more vulnerable than they were a month ago." He said the variant is "more easily transmissible, potentially deadlier, and particularly dangerous for young people."
Like Walensky, Biden said the best way people can protect themselves against it is to get fully vaccinated. "Please, please if you have one shot, get the second shot as soon as you can," he said. "The data is clear: If you are unvaccinated, you're at risk of getting seriously ill or dying or spreading it."
Though Biden said he doesn't predict the spread of the Delta variant will lead to another lockdown, thanks to the efficacy of the vaccines, he fears "some areas will be very hurt."