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Virginia, North Carolina closely watching new Delta coronavirus variant

The vaccine is supposed to be the best defense against COVID-19. Nearly 70% of Virginians 18 years or older have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine.

NORFOLK, Va. — The emerging Delta coronavirus mutation serves as a reminder that despite lifted restrictions and guidelines, the coronavirus pandemic is not over.

This week, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) classified the Delta variant as a "variant of concern," meaning it meets these possible attributes:

  • Evidence of impact on diagnostics, treatments or vaccines
    • Widespread interference with diagnostic test targets
    • Evidence of substantially decreased susceptibility to one or more therapies
    • Evidence of significant decreased neutralization by antibodies from previous infection or vaccination
    • Evidence of reduced vaccine protection from severe disease
  • Evidence of increased contagiousness
  • Evidence of increased severity of sickness

“Yes, we can say there’s cases of the Delta variant in Virginia," said Dr. Brandy Darby, veterinary epidemiologist with the Virginia Department of Health.

The mutation, originally identified in India, was identified as a variant of concern as early as May by the World Health Organization, and now makes up roughly 10% of COVID-19 cases in the country, according to the CDC. 

“The B.1.617.2 version-- the Delta version-- has a good fitness for transmissibility and we certainly are seeing more cases," Darby said. 

On Thursday, Darby said it was unclear the exact number of Delta variant cases in the commonwealth, but VDH officials said more variant-related information could come by the end of the week. 

Across the border in North Carolina, the Tar Heel state also acknowledged the presence of the variant in its community this week.

North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) said the Delta variant is "rapidly spreading” throughout the country, including the state itself.

“In North Carolina, we’ve seen this variant. It’s been a small fraction of those cases we’ve sequenced, we’re not seeing 10% like nationally yet, but we are seeing it like everywhere else increasing," said state epidemiologist, Dr. Zack Moore. "I fully expect take-over, pretty quickly."

According to Moore, the concern is how much easier it could potentially spread between unvaccinated parties. 

"The concern is that it’s more easily spread from person to person. If you’ve got unvaccinated people, an encounter that might not have led them to get infected before is more likely now," Moore said. 

Both Darby and Moore said that COVID-19 vaccines were the most effective way to not contract the virus or its variants.

“From the CDC, we saw it be less than 3% of all the COVID cases, now about 10% in early June, so really rapidly crowding out the other variants that were here before," Moore said.