Tompkins County reported two cases of the COVID-19 Delta variant last week — but even as the variant has caused cases to surge in some regions of the world, local experts are not sounding alarm bells for those that are vaccinated.
With nearly seven in 10 people in the county vaccinated, experts said the variant’s risk to the local community is relatively low but that its spread should still be monitored.
“This variant is more transmissible, but also with fewer clinical signs — however, with local testing down to almost nothing, it’s going to be hard to know the extent of spread, and vaccines are not 100 percent effective, so there is still a risk for the elderly/more susceptible, even if fully vaccinated, and vaccinated people can still spread the virus,” Prof. Gary Whittaker, microbiology and immunology, wrote to The Sun.
After identifying the two cases, Tompkins County Health Department “completed contact tracing with both identified Delta variant cases and did not identify any spread beyond the two individual index cases,” according to Dominick Recckio, communications director for Tompkins County.
Data from the past several weeks in India and the United Kingdom suggest that Delta both spreads more easily than previous strains of the virus and is somewhat more resistant to vaccines — especially in people who have not received their second dose.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention marked Delta a “Variant of Concern” on June 15. As of June 19, the Delta variant made up about one in five COVID cases in the country.
Despite the Delta variant’s growing prevalence nationwide, Whittaker said he’s not particularly concerned about Delta’s impacts in Tompkins County because of the county’s high vaccination rate — about 65 percent of the county is currently fully vaccinated, outpacing both New York State and the country as a whole.
Prof. John Moore, microbiology and immunology, said Delta is “a serious concern for people who are not fully vaccinated. It is of much lesser concern for those who are, and particularly in areas of the country with a high vaccine uptake rate.”
Whittaker said he doesn’t plan to change his masking behavior, remaining vigilant in more crowded areas.
“Delta is not changing much for me — I am still careful outside of the Cornell campus and wearing a mask in grocery stores etc., and this will continue — we have increasing numbers of visitors coming in now that summer vacation season is underway,” Whittaker, wrote.
Moore also said the introduction of the variant won’t change his behavior in the immediate future, but added that the situation should be monitored in the coming weeks and months.
But some public health agencies have opted to reup safety measures, like mask wearing, to protect communities where vaccination may not be as widespread.
On June 25, the World Health Organization urged everyone — including those who are fully vaccinated — to wear masks in light of the new variant. While the CDC has not issued similar guidance, some local health departments — including Los Angeles’s — are encouraging fully vaccinated individuals to wear masks indoors.
Recckio said that in the face of the new variant, the county health department is leaning on vaccines, which have led to a low number of cases and hospitalizations in the county.