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Infectious disease expert estimates Delta will be dominant SC COVID strain in a month

Published: Jul. 8, 2021 at 7:20 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 8, 2021 at 7:22 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - More than 90% of COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations in South Carolina within a two-week period were among unvaccinated people, according to the SC Dept. of Health and Environmental Control.

But with less than 45% of all South Carolinians fully vaccinated, DHEC leaders say they are worried hospitalizations will go up again.

Infectious disease researcher Dr. Helmut Albrecht, chair of the Prisma Health-UofSC Medical group department of medicine, says that virus mutations could also increase the spread of the coronavirus.

In particular, Albrecht is keeping a close eye on a potential surge in cases caused by the Delta variant.

Because the spread of Delta doubles roughly every two weeks Albrecht estimates in a month it will be the most common strain of COVID-19 in South Carolina.

“This is a real threat for a large number of unvaccinated people in our state,” Dr. Albrecht said of the variant.

Albrecht says Delta is like a “best of” variant. He said it includes some of the most dangerous COVID-19 mutations that have emerged over the last year and a half and combines them into a dangerous cocktail.

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However, he said not only is Delta able to spread quickly, but research also has shown it could be making infected people sicker than the original strain did.

“We are seeing disturbingly young people in the hospital, we are seeing pregnant women in the hospital who could’ve protected themselves but also their unborn baby who isn’t vaccinated and getting severely, severely ill,” he said.

DHEC Public Health Director Dr. Brannon Traxler warned that while all COVID-19 vaccines available in the U.S. protect against Delta, someone needs to be fully vaccinated for that protection to be significant.

“There are some studies that show that only having one of the two doses with Pfizer or Moderna may not be really protected,” Traxler said.

However, 57% of South Carolinians are not fully vaccinated according to DHEC.

But while Dr. Albrecht says the Delta variant is a combination of some of the most harmful COVID-19 mutations, the Delta Plus or AY.2 variant could be more dangerous in the long run.

“AY.2 adds two mutations that are both not making the virus more infectious, but make it get around vaccines and previous infection immunity better,” Albrecht explained. “The AY.2, or Delta Plus variant, probably only needs to pick up on or two more mutations...I think to really make a problem for the vaccine.”

However, if people start rolling up their sleeves at a faster rate, Albrecht is hopeful that not only will fewer people get severely ill from COVID-19, but the chances of the virus mutating to a point that it is immune to the vaccines decreases.

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