The COVID-19 Delta variant appears to be much more contagious than federal health experts had previously believed. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data, this new strain is responsible for more than 51 percent of new U.S. COVID-19 cases from June 20 to July 3.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the CDC, told reporters on Thursday that her agency’s estimate is just that, an estimate at best.

She said that while it does not surprise health experts that the Delta variant has become the dominant strain, they did not expect it to spread so rapidly and so soon. It’s “troubling,” she said, especially because it has “increased transmissibility” and those states that have low vaccination rates are the most hard hit.

The CDC can track where the variant is spreading and at what rate through reports from state and private labs, but lately, sequencing samples that have tested positive for the coronavirus have taken many weeks to complete. This implies that the rate at which these infections are reported has also been delayed.

Scientists predict that new mutations of COVID-19 will continue evolving, which means that the disease will be circulating for the next two or three years.  

There are approximately 1,000 counties across the U.S. whose populations have a vaccination rate of less than 30%. Those counties are predominantly located in the Southeast and Midwest. The most recent infection spikes are coming from those areas.

While confirmed COVID-19 infections now average at about 15,000 new cases a day over the past week as compared to the 251,000 average per day in January and deaths average at about 225 per day, down from 3,400-a-day average in January, still less than half of the population has been fully vaccinated.

The urgent issue at hand is to prevent the possibility of a variant outbreak in the fall. That might depend on how well President Joe Biden’s “surge” teams and local state officials work on convincing more people to get vaccinated.

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