Spreads more easily and quickly
Okanogan County health officials are concerned by the identification of the first case of the more contagious COVID-19 Delta variant in the county at the end of June.
The Delta variant has been shown to be “substantially more transmissible” than both the original strain of COVID and other common variants, Okanogan County Public Health said last week.
COVID-19 variants are circulating widely throughout the state. The Alpha variant, which appeared in Okanogan County in late April 2021, currently accounts for most new cases in the county.
All viruses mutate, and most COVID mutations don’t affect us, according to the Washington Department of Health (DOH). But both Alpha and Delta are among the six “variants of concern,” which spread more easily and quickly, causing more COVID infections, DOH said.
Okanogan County has hit a low in new cases that it hasn’t seen since last October/November. But the appearance of the Delta variant has county health officials worried that the county could see an increased wave of cases like the rest of the state, Okanogan County Health Officer James Wallace said.
Vaccination is the most effective tool for preventing new cases of all COVID variants, Wallace said. People who aren’t vaccinated should avoid large indoor gatherings and wear masks to prevent transmission.
Slowing transmission reduces the opportunity for the virus to mutate and slows the overall development of variants, DOH said.
Vaccines provide strong protection against hospitalization and death for all known variants, but there are indications that vaccines are less protective against some strains of the disease.
Statewide, the Delta variant constitutes about 12% of “vaccine breakthroughs” — COVID infections in people who have been fully vaccinated. Most breakthrough infections have been the Alpha variant. Vaccinated people who develop COVID typically get just a mild infection, DOH said.
Because these variants spread more easily and quickly, they can infect more people, which in turn puts more strain on health care resources and can lead to more hospitalizations and potentially more deaths, DOH said.
Variants are identified through genetic sequencing. In June, Washington sequenced 15% of all positive specimens, one of the highest sequencing rates in the country, according to the CDC.
Still, the low number of sequenced cases means that scientists don’t have a complete understanding of the spread of individual variants.
As of July 14, seven cases of the alpha variant had been found in Okanogan County, but none of the other common variants. Over all, Alpha has been the most common variant statewide, but in the second half of June, of specimens that had been sequenced, most new cases were the Delta variant, according to DOH.
The Delta variant is spreading fastest in areas of the country where vaccination rates are low, Public Health said. It was first detected in the United States in March 2021 and was initially identified in India in December 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Patient care is the same for all the variants. Health care providers don’t tell people which variant they have.
Okanogan County stats
The number of new COVID cases in Okanogan County has stayed low, with just 15 cases in the week ending July 18. One of those cases was in Twisp.
The two-week incidence rate per 100,000 population is 67, a rate of 119 cases in unvaccinated people and 10 in the vaccinated population, according to Public Health.