Delta variant in Iowa: State urges vaccinations as new strain spreads

By: - July 7, 2021 5:02 pm

Less than two months after the first case was identified in the state, the delta variant has become the most common strain of COVID-19 in Iowa.

The Iowa Department of Public Health found that the delta variant, which was first identified in India, represented 53% of the variants in Iowa during the final week of June.

“Iowans should assume (the delta variant) is circulating in their community,” wrote Sarah Ekstrand, IDPH spokesperson.

Nationwide, the delta variant is the dominant strain of COVID-19, representing 51.7% of infections. President Joe Biden on Tuesday urged Americans to get vaccinated, suggesting hyperlocal efforts to convince the over 30% of adults who have yet to get a shot.

“Millions of Americans are still unvaccinated and unprotected. And because of that, their communities are at risk. Their friends are at risk. The people they care about are at risk,” Biden said Tuesday. “This is an even bigger concern because of the delta variant.”

In Iowa, 64% of adults have had at least their first vaccine shot, according to New York Times data.

Here’s what you need to know about the delta variant as it spreads in Iowa.

How is the delta variant different than other strains?

Studies have shown the delta variant is between 35% to 60% better at spreading than the alpha variant — that’s the strain that caused a major outbreak in the U.K. last fall. The alpha strain was already significantly more contagious than the original version of the virus.

Researchers have not said conclusively whether the variant causes more severe symptoms, but initial studies indicate it could be. A June study from Scotland found that patients with the delta strain were about twice as likely to be hospitalized than those patients with the alpha variant.

There are also indicators that delta presents differently than early forms of COVID-19. In addition to hallmark symptoms, like shortness of breath and a cough, the delta virus sometimes causes cold-like symptoms, like a runny nose or congestion.

Do vaccines protect against the delta variant?

Ekstrand said current data shows vaccines “prevent illness from all known variant strains of the virus,” and U.S. health officials have urged Americans to be vaccinated as the delta variant spreads.

But some questions do remain: The Israel Health Ministry released a study this week that found the effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine at preventing infection fell to 64% as the country experienced an outbreak of the delta strain. Dr. Anthony Fauci told NPR on Tuesday that he was puzzled by the finding, but he noted that it found the vaccines were still very effective at preventing hospitalization or death.

What precaution should Iowans take against new strains of COVID-19?

The World Health Organization has recommended everyone, even fully vaccinated people, keep wearing masks and social distancing as delta spreads. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have not reinstated mask recommendations for vaccinated Americans.

When asked whether Iowans should mask up again, Ekstrand answered by urging vaccinations for anyone who has not received one.

“The best way to protect yourself against any strain of the COVID-19 virus is to get vaccinated,” she wrote in an email.

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Katie Akin is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter. Katie began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.