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Concern growing over highly contagious Delta variant, not yet in Southeastern North Carolina

Published: Jun. 24, 2021 at 12:51 AM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - The highly contagious COVID-19 Delta variant is cause for concern for many health experts across the country, as the number of cases linked to the variant has doubled in just a couple of weeks, according to NBC News.

While it has not yet made it to Southeastern North Carolina, there’s a growing concern about the variant among health leaders in the area as the number of people getting vaccinated is starting to level off.

“We’re still vaccinating people, but nowhere the numbers we did in the past and that’s what concerns us to really put this behind us,” said. Dr. West Paul, senior vice president and chief clinical officer for New Hanover Regional Medical Center.

The Delta variant is believed to have originated in India, and according to Dr. Paul it’s about 60% more infectious than the previous Alpha variant, which was discovered in the U.K. Dr. Paul also said that there’s about a two-fold increase chance of being hospitalized with the Delta variant.

“It has an increase of what we call morbidity for you to be hospitalized with this particular variant, so it is a very concerning development as far as variants go,” said Dr. Paul.

Getting vaccinated continues to be the number one defense against COVID-19, even in the face of dangerous variants like the Delta variant.

While high vaccination rates are seen in New Hanover County’s most vulnerable population, it’s the younger population that continues to be a challenge in getting vaccinated.

“Unfortunately the flip side of that coin is we’ve seen more and more young people that have now been hospitalized — some severe illness for that,” Dr. Paul said.

About 48% of New Hanover County’s population is fully vaccinated and 50% of the population has received at least one dose. While the vaccines prevent severe disease, they may be less likely to actually prevent the disease with the new Delta variant.

“Even with the Delta variant — Delta is probably one that has escaped some of the vaccination ability to prevent the disease but the vaccinations are still 95% to 100% at preventing hospitalizations so even though they may be less likely to actually prevent the disease — the severe disease they are still excellent,” Dr. Paul said.

It’s also essential that those getting the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine follow through in getting the second shot. Those with only one dose are much more susceptible to the Delta variant.

There could be an increase in cases this summer if the Delta variant makes it’s way to Southeastern North Carolina, according to Dr. Paul, but it’s unlikely there will be a surge in hospitalizations like we saw last winter now that a large percentage of the most vulnerable have been vaccinated.

“We’ve gotten that vulnerable population, so we don’t expect to see those high numbers at the hospital,” Dr. Paul said. “Those vulnerable populations when they got covid they had a very high percentage of having to come to the hospital so we don’t think we’ll see that surge. Could we see a surge in cases? Yes, we certainly could as the summer months go on.”

There’s no difference in treatment of the Delta variant, so the hospital is prepared.

“The way we treat patients, the way we isolate patients, the way we cohort — exactly the same as the other variants and the drugs are effective that we are using against that,” Dr. Paul said.

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