Wednesday, September 22, 2021     Volume: 22, Issue: 29

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on July 14th, 2021, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 22, Issue 20 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 22, Issue 20

Delta variant is on the rise, vaccines remain effective

By Malea Martin

The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department believes the Delta variant could account for as many as half of the new COVID-19 cases in Santa Barbara County.

Public Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg estimates that anywhere from 30 to 50 percent of local COVID cases are now the Delta variant. Vaccines appear to be highly effective against the strain, because on July 8, everyone hospitalized from COVID in the county was unvaccinated.

Public Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg explained that even though the county saw just a handful of confirmed Delta cases in June, this data point only tells part of the story. He estimates that anywhere from 30 to 50 percent of the county’s total cases today are of this faster-spreading, more severe variant.

“Even though we’re attempting to have every single test result tested for variants, the whole genome sequencing test cannot always be performed,” Ansorg said. “Sometimes it’s not successful just because there’s not enough RNA in the sample.”

For this reason, the county only had 15 successful whole genome tests performed from original samples in June.

“That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s almost 10 percent of all positive cases, so it does have a little bit of validity with regard to percentages,” Ansorg said.

In May, 29 positive Santa Barbara County COVID-19 tests were genome sequenced. There were no Delta variants in May, but just more than half were the UK B117 strain. In June, the UK variant decreased to 40 percent of those sequenced, while the Delta jumped to 40 percent, indicating that the Delta variant could take over as the most common strain.

“It’s a small sample size, obviously, but it still paints a picture,” Ansorg said. “And it is very much in sync with Southern California, with Los Angeles, with California as a whole. … There’s no question in my mind that the Delta variant is going to bypass all the other variants and basically replace them.”

Ansorg said the county has not seen an increase in hospitalization, likely due to the high local vaccination rate. On July 8, 12 people were hospitalized from COVID-19, and Ansorg said they were all unvaccinated.

“The good news is that the vaccines are highly effective in preventing severe illness and hospitalization, so you will not find a vaccinated person either dying or even in the ICU, or even having to be hospitalized, with a Delta,” Ansorg said July 8. “Every single person that is hospitalized is unvaccinated in Santa Barbara County, and that’s basically everywhere.”

Santa Barbara County Public Health’s current recommendation is that fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks in most indoor settings. But with the Delta variant on the rise, some regions, including Los Angeles, are recommending that people keep wearing masks indoors. 

“To be extra safe, it is strongly recommended that you wear masks indoors in public places when you don’t know everyone’s vaccination status regardless of your vaccination status,” the Los Angeles County Public Health website states. “Until we better understand how and to who the Delta variant is spreading, everyone is asked to wear masks to help slow the spread of the virus.”

Ansorg said Los Angeles County is particularly susceptible to spread because of population density, so it’s hard to compare it to Santa Barbara County. But a change in recommendations isn’t out of the question.

“I’m looking at these numbers not just every day, but multiple times every day: Where are we with new cases, where are they occurring, how many hospitalizations do we have, how many ICU,” Ansorg said. “As long as all of that stays stable, I think we are staying put for now [with current masking guidelines]. But if we see an uptick, and we have our own little internal threshold … then we would most likely come up with the same recommendation [as LA County].”

Ansorg said he personally continues to wear a mask indoors sometimes even though he’s fully vaccinated.

“If it’s a store and it’s empty, I may not,” he said. “If it’s even moderately full, I definitely put on a mask, especially in grocery stores and pharmacies, relatively big areas. Just because of this Delta variant, we don’t know enough about it yet, and I just think [wearing a mask] is a very, very small price to pay.”

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