Kansas doctors: Troublesome coronavirus variant nicknamed Delta warrants strict scrutiny

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TOPEKA — More than 100 cases of the COVID-19 variant first identified in India and given the shorthand name Delta have been diagnosed in Kansas, prompting public anxiety this variety could cause more severe illness or a higher degree of fatalities.

Lee Norman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said in an interview Monday genomic sequencing on samples drawn from Kansans had identified 47 mutated versions of coronavirus in the state. In all, KDHE said 1,460 people scattered among 60 Kansas counties have contracted an alternative to the original coronavirus.

Nearly 700 of those cases were concentrated in Sedgwick County followed by 165 in Johnson County, 148 in Shawnee County and 44 in Douglas County. Lab work has identified 20 to 35 cases each in Finney, Cowley, Wyandotte, Labette, Crawford and Geary counties, KDHE said.

Norman said the 110 confirmed cases of Delta — recently labeled “coronavirus on steroids” by a former White House adviser — amounted to 7.5% of Kansas’ variant cases. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention more sedately refers to Delta as a “variant of concern,” given the variety has been identified in at least 80 countries.

“We cannot ease up on our effort,” said Norman, who has continued to urge people to be vaccinated. “We just cannot let up.”

The Delta incarnation of coronavirus has shown up in KDHE laboratories at a higher rate since the start of June. he said. It was identified in late 2020 in India, but the World Health Organization adopted the Delta title in May.

Dana Hawkinson, medical director of infection prevention and control at the University of Kansas Health System in Kansas City, Kansas, said there was inconclusive research on whether the Delta variant produced greater health challenges than the notorious Alpha variant tied to the United Kingdom.

“We can’t really speak to: Is it more deadly? Does it cause more disease?” Hawkinson said. “So, it is vitally important for everyone to get vaccinated. We do believe the risks are going up, for one reason or another, for serious disease.”

The slowing rate of COVID-19 vaccination in Kansas leaves people vulnerable to contracting the COVID-19 virus that has killed 5,129 and hospitalized twice that figure in the state. More than 300,000 Kansans have contracted COVID-19 during the pandemic.

In Kansas, 43.6% of the state’s adults have been vaccinated with one dose and 37.6% have been fully vaccinated. In all, 2.87 million doses have been administered in Kansas, KDHE said.

The state had no reported fatalities associated with COVID-19 from Friday to Monday, but the KDHE secretary said vaccination was key to limiting mortality. It would be folly, Norman said, for people to assert the pandemic was over.

“That’s faulty logic,” he said. “It’s natural human optimism or starry-eyed thinking.”

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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