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The COVID-19 Delta Variant Is In Northern California. Here’s What You Need To Know.

Nurse Miyah Dhatt gives a vaccine at a drive-through clinic in Sacramento County.
Andrew Nixon / CapRadio
Nurse Miyah Dhatt gives a vaccine at a drive-through clinic in Sacramento County.

The delta variant of the coronavirus is more contagious than the original strain, experts say, but California health officials say it mostly poses a threat to those who are unvaccinated.

California health officials are warning the public about the delta variant of the coronavirus which is more contagious than the SARS CoV-2 virus that’s been dominant for much of the pandemic.

The delta variant accounts for about 36% of cases sampled in California, the health department announced Friday. As of Friday, Sacramento County had identified 67 cases of this strain, Yolo County had 41 cases, Placer County had six cases and El Dorado County had one case.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that fully immunized people are well protected from the Delta variant, and can continue enjoying regular activities without masking or social distancing.

“The real concern is for people who have, for one reason or another, not been vaccinated,” said Dr. David Lo, a UC Riverside immunologist. “That's pretty much the whole story right there."

However, the World Health Organization urged fully vaccinated people to continue masking indoors in light of the delta variant last month. Shortly after, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health started recommending that people wear masks — regardless of their vaccination status — at grocery or retail stores, inside theater and family entertainment centers, and in workplaces when a person's vaccination status is unknown.

In Los Angeles, 110 of the 123 Delta variant cases identified were among unvaccinated people, according to the Washington Post. State and local health officials are encouraging anyone who can to get the vaccine.

Yolo County Public Health Officer Dr. Aimee Sisson said in an email that vaccinated people may be more susceptible to the delta variant than the original coronavirus.

“Fully vaccinated persons should consider wearing a mask indoors, particularly if they are older or have underlying conditions that might suppress their immune system,” Sisson said.

As of now, neither the state nor any Sacramento-area health departments have put out formal recommendations for indoor mask-wearing. Most of the state’s COVID-19 guidelines ended when California reopened on June 15. The statewide case positivity rate has been rising gradually since early June.

CapRadio spoke with Dr. David Lo, an immunologist at UC Riverside, about the new strain.

On vaccination status and the delta variant

Well, a lot of the issues with the delta variant are not terribly different from the issues with the other strains, the original strain of the virus. If you've not been vaccinated, then you're susceptible to infection and all of the consequences, including severe illness and potential death. At the same time, anybody who's been vaccinated is mostly protected not only from infection, but even in cases where people can get infected, they are pretty much 100% protected from severe disease and death. And that applies whether or not we're talking about the main variant of the coronavirus or even the delta variant.

On how the delta variant is different from the original strain

The only real distinction here is that the delta variant is more infectious, meaning that it is simply easier to spread from one person to the next. So vaccination pretty much takes care of that for people.

In terms of the severity of disease, there's only a little bit of evidence and most of the evidence suggests that it's pretty much similar to the other strains. So, the factors that relate to the infectiousness or the infectivity are different from the factors that lead to severity of disease. And so right now with the delta, we're really talking about infectivity and the ability of the virus to spread from one person to the next.

On what to do if the delta strain is prevalent in your area

Because the Delta variant is so infectious, there are places like the World Health Organization, some local governments, who are concerned ... They're thinking about encouraging people to wear masks just as a precautionary measure. But if you've been vaccinated, there really isn't any other real need in terms of changing behavior or other precautions.

On whether the Johnson & Johnson vaccine protects against the delta variant

Well, the recent studies suggest that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is every bit as effective in protecting you against the delta variant, as well as all the other variants that are out there right now.

The thing to keep in mind is that as with almost all of the vaccines, we always see a continual process of improvement of vaccination formulations. They've been steadily improving over the years ... So I wouldn't put too much into any concerns of, ‘Oh, my gosh, are we going to have to worry about boosters?’ and things like that. It's really just the usual scientific medical progress and improvement of existing or novel vaccines to address an ongoing health threat.