What you need to know about the Delta variant of COVID-19 in Arizona

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Posted at 3:46 PM, Jun 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-01 22:29:50-04

PHOENIX — The head of ASU's Biodesign Institute said the more contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 will soon become the predominant variant in Arizona, and while early research shows it can cause more severe illness, he doesn't think there will be a surge in cases that will overwhelm hospitals.

Right now, Arizona is reporting an average of 550 COVID-19 cases a day, which is nearly a 30% increase from where we were last week. Hospitalizations are also up 11% from last week.

The Arizona Department of Health said, as of Tuesday, there have been 130 cases of the Delta variant confirmed in Arizona. In 15 of the cases, the patients were hospitalized, and of those, two people have died.

"Because it is so contagious, we expect Delta to increase its presence in Arizona among those who aren’t vaccinated," an ADHS spokesperson told ABC15.

Doctors and researchers have been keeping an eye on the Delta variant, which was first seen in India and is more contagious than the dominant UK variant in Arizona.

According to TGen research labs in Flagstaff, in the last two weeks, 15% to 20% of cases in our state are from the Delta variant. That number is expected to continue rising.

"My suspicion is that in the next week or two, the Delta variant will become predominant in the state," said Dr. Joshua LaBaer, executive director of ASU Biodesign Institute.

Dr. LaBaer, who has been leading the research on COVID-19, and said most data on the Delta variant is coming from other countries.

So far, it seems to cause more severe disease, including in young people, which according to ADHS is the age group where they are seeing it more in our state.

"The largest number of Delta variant cases by far confirmed by whole-genome sequencing is among those ages 20 to 44," an ADHS spokesperson told ABC15 on Tuesday.

"As long as there's a lot of virus in the community, there will be an opportunity for new variants to emerge that become resistant to vaccines or at least become highly transmissible the more we can suppress the virus by getting vaccinated, the less likely that will happen," said Dr. LaBaer.

Those who are fully vaccinated are protected from all variants and unlikely to get seriously ill. But based on how easily the variant spreads, Dr. LaBaer said even vaccinated people should be cautious.

One Valley hospital organization is starting to see its COVID-19 numbers slightly go up in the past two weeks.

Dr. Michael White with Valleywise Health said two weeks ago they had one patient across their network, and now they’re up to double digits with 12 COVID-19 positive patients.

Arizona now has over 100 confirmed cases of the Delta variant that have been found through whole-genome sequencing, according to a spokesperson for the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Dr. White said the hospitalizations they are seeing from COVID-19 over the last few weeks are predominately individuals who have not been vaccinated. He added he has concerns around the Delta variant that is being seen in Arizona.

“We know that it is more contagious, it’s more easily transmittable from individual to individual,” said Dr. White.

"If you're in a situation where you're indoors and you're in a crowded circumstance, it would probably be a good idea to wear a mask," LaBaer said.

Dr. LaBaer said we're not at risk for surges that will overrun our hospitals, especially since most of the older, high-risk population has been vaccinated.

"It comes down to the individual, and those...who are not vaccinated, they are at high risk. They will easily get infected by this very transmissible virus and there's a 1/5 chance on average that they will end up severely ill from it," he said.