Just when you thought COVID was over, the highly transmissible Delta variant has now become the most dominant strain of COVID-19 in the United States. As Healthline reports, CDC data for the two weeks ending July 3 shows the Delta variant now makes up 51.7% of all COVID-19 cases. That’s a far cry from mid-June when Delta only made up 10% of cases in the U.S.
But the variant isn’t hitting all states equally. Delta cases have risen primarily in states with low vaccination rates, which for the most part are heavily Republican – “red” states such as Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, and Wyoming. Overall, these states have seen higher upticks in daily cases and hospitalizations than “blue” states that voted Democratic in the 2020 election.
In Missouri, for instance, daily cases have risen around 75% in the past two weeks, from around 800 to 1,400 cases per day. Hospitalizations have also risen 34% during that time, from around 830 to 1,100 per day. Delta has made up almost 70% of all coronavirus cases there over the past two months, found data compiled by Scripps Research’s Outbreak.info tracker. Less than half of Missouri residents (around 46%) have received at least one vaccine dose so far – well below the US average of 56%.
But Vermont, where almost 75% of residents have received at least one dose, has reported five daily cases and five daily hospitalizations in the past two weeks. Delta made up less than 1% of coronavirus cases there in the past two months.
According to CNN.com, researchers at Georgetown University identified 30 clusters of counties with low vaccination rates and significant population sizes. The five most significant of those clusters are sprawled across large swaths of the southeastern United States and a smaller portion in the Midwest.
The five clusters are largely in parts of eight states, starting in the east in Georgia and stretching west to Texas and north to southern Missouri. The clusters also include parts of Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Tennessee, and are made up of mostly smaller counties but also cities such as Montgomery, Alabama; Shreveport, Louisiana; and Amarillo, Texas.
Each time a virus spreads like the Delta variant, it has an opportunity to learn how to mutate.
“We know that if you give the virus the opportunity to circulate and replicate, you give it the opportunity to generate more variants,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, told CNN.
The Delta variant has learned how to evade Covid-19 vaccines to a small degree, but they still offer excellent protection against severe disease and hospitalization.
The fear is that the next variant might be able to outsmart the vaccine more thoroughly, causing problems even for parts of the country that have high vaccination rates.