The Delta variant of the pathogen that causes COVID-19 is becoming more prevalent and now accounts for around 83 percent of all new sequenced cases in the United States, according to Dr. Rochelle Walensky, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Walensky made the remarks in testimony Tuesday during a Senate hearing on the federal response to the pandemic, which includes tracking new viral mutations.
The CDC has “released estimates of variants across the country and predicted the Delta variant now represents 83 percent of sequenced cases,” Walensky said, adding, “This is a dramatic increase up from 50 percent the week of July 3.”
“In some parts of the country the percentage is even higher, particularly in areas with low vaccination rates,” Walensky said, adding that areas with “limited vaccination coverage are allowing for the emergence and rapid spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant.”
Deemed a “variant of concern” by the CDC, the Delta mutation of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, the pathogen that causes COVID-19, is considered by the agency to be more transmissible and potentially more resistant to vaccines.
So far, no CCP virus mutations have received the “variant of high consequence” designation, which is reserved for those that show clear evidence that medical countermeasures have significantly reduced effectiveness compared to previously circulating variants.
The Delta variant, first identified in India, has spread to more than 100 countries, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Dr. Poonam Singh, the WHO’s regional director for southeast Asia, told news agency ANI that the Delta variant could soon become the most dominant strain globally, saying that, “among all variants of concern, Delta spreads most rapidly.”
In her Senate testimony, Walensky also said that, in parts of the United States where vaccine coverage is low, cases and hospitalizations are starting to climb.
“Over the last week we have averaged 239 deaths per day, an increase of nearly 48 percent over the prior week,” she said, while urging more Americans to get vaccinated.
She said nearly two-thirds of the counties in the United States have vaccinated less than 40 percent of their residents.
“The message from CDC remains clear—the best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 variants is to prevent the spread of disease and vaccination is the most powerful tool we have,” she said, adding, “We must continue to expand vaccine coverage.”
CDC data shows that around 48.6 percent of the U.S. population is now fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Meanwhile, a June poll showed that 63 percent of likely general election voters were opposed to government action in response to the Delta variant, telling pollsters that “with the widespread availability of the vaccines and treatments individuals can make personal decisions on how to respond.”
At the same time, 17.7 percent of all respondents said the government should reinstate mask-wearing and social distancing mandates, while 7.0 percent said they also want lockdowns in addition to mask and distancing requirements.
Health officials have said lockdowns helped keep people safe, but some experts have argued the strategy had unintended consequences, including leading to skyrocketing unemployment, widespread business closures, and a rise in mental health issues.