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Delta variant expected to become dominant strain in Virginia as case counts rise

Covid testing
Posted at 9:48 PM, Jul 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-21 13:03:47-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- As the CDC announced the highly contagious Delta variant represented more than 80 percent of sequenced COVID cases in the country Tuesday, Virginia health experts predicted the Delta variant would soon become the dominant strain in the state as well.

"CDC has released estimates of variants across the country and predicted the Delta variant represents 83 percent of sequenced cases," said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, in a Senate hearing Tuesday. "This is a dramatic increase, up from 50 percent the week of July 3."

In central Virginia, data from the Virginia Department of Health still showed the Alpha or B.1.1.7 variant as the most common strain, with Delta making up only a small portion of cases.

"The most recent estimates were about 10 percent," said Rebekah Butterfield, Epidemiologist for the Richmond and Henrico Health Districts. "We suspect that the actual numbers are higher."

Butterfield said one factor that influences that data is how many samples get sequenced.

"And then, of course, there's a little bit of a delay because sequencing takes up to two weeks," said Butterfield. "Even in the central region of Virginia, Delta is moving faster, and will probably become the dominant variant here soon."

Butterfield said the strain could be a contributing factor to the rising COVID case counts in the state, particularly in unvaccinated areas.

Other factors she said could include the lifting of mitigation measures and vaccinations slowing.

"We are seeing more cases in zip codes, and cities, and areas where there's lower vaccination," said Butterfield. "The longer we, we have unprotected populations, the more of these variants we're going to see. And that's going to disrupt our lives."

The news comes as Governor Ralph Northam was expected to release updated guidance on masks in schools Wednesday, just two days after the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended masks are worn by everyone two years and older.

"Every time it spreads to someone there's a chance for mutation," said VCU Children's Hospital Pediatrician Dr. Tiffany Kimbrough.

Dr. Kimbrough said the AAP's guidance to wear a mask came down to adding an extra layer of protection, with a goal of keeping kids safe and inside classrooms.

"Delta is something that we're all keeping our eyes on, and we're not really sure what the next few weeks and going into the beginning of the school year is going to look like as those cases continue to go back up again," Dr. Kimbrough said.

In a statement VDH Deputy Director of the Office of Epidemiology, Dr. Laurie Forlano said:

"The American Academy of Pediatrics is an important partner to VDH and we will consider their recommendations as we finalize our K-12 guidance. We anticipate the Virginia guidance for schools will be available very soon.”

Meanwhile, Virginia health officials continued to stress the importance of vaccination.

The VDH reported more than 99 percent of people testing positive in the state were unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated. While just .0019 percent of fully vaccinated Virginians had been hospitalized for COVID-19.