Physicians Hall Front

Medical College of Wisconsin Experts Explain Delta Variant of COVID-19

The Delta variant of COVID-19 has become the dominant variant in the U.S., posing many questions about what changes with guidelines now and what could happen next. The variant is about 60 to 70-percent more likely to be transmitted and now makes up more than 80% of all COVID cases.

“This is not the COVID of a year ago. It is better at infecting, better at spreading, and data suggests it is also better at putting you in the hospital, even if you are young,” said Ben Weston, MD, MPH, associate professor of emergency medicine and director of medical services of the Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management. “Even though vaccination rates are increasing, the variant is still a threat to unvaccinated people and communities with low vaccination rates.”

Dr. Weston reports that the impact of the Delta variant is being felt in the Wisconsin community. “When we have a fairly sizable unvaccinated population in Wisconsin, in Milwaukee County, in the city, take your pick, it’s easy for the virus to spread and I think that’s why we’re seeing increased numbers,” Dr. Weston said.

Dr. John Raymond, MCW’s president and CEO, shared that nearly 51% of Wisconsin residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine, one of the top states in terms of population fully vaccinated.

From what we know about the Delta variant, it is the most transmissible strain thus far and can be spread by asymptomatic individuals. The primary symptoms are headache, sneezing, runny nose, and sore throat which is different from earlier variants. It also seems to cause more severe disease, meaning the likelihood of hospitalization is increased.

The variant also can in some cases get through vaccine immunity. Individuals must complete the full course of mRNA vaccines to achieve 90% protection against the Delta variant. In a meeting about the new variant, Dr. Raymond addressed what the Delta variant is, how protected Wisconsin’s community may be from it and stressed progressions in the vaccination process must continue in order to gain more immunity.

“99% of people who have died of COVID-19 since January were people who were not fully vaccinated for COVID-19,” Dr. Raymond said when asked about vaccine effectiveness and breakthrough COVID cases popping up. “They’re not perfect, you’re not going to have an impenetrable force field around you that prevents you being exposed to the virus. That’s why if you’re in a situation in which you have a high likelihood of being infected, your likelihood of getting infected goes up even if you’ve been vaccinated. This is our best layer of protection.”

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