At least 64 cases of COVID-19 in Illinois have been identified as the delta variant, according to data from the Illinois Department of Public Health, as officials issue new warnings about the rapidly spreading strain.
As of Thursday, those 64 cases of the delta variant in Illinois are out of a total of 9,437 COVID-19 cases in the state that have been identified as one of the six known variants. Of those, a total of 6,313 in Illinois have been the alpha variant, while another 2,436 were identified as the gamma variant.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared the delta variant, which was first detected in India, a "variant of concern" on Monday. That designation is given when there is increased evidence of factors such as transmissibility or severity or reduced effectiveness of vaccines or treatments.
The change in classification was "based on mounting evidence that the Delta variant spreads more easily and causes more severe cases when compared to other variants, including B.1.1.7 (Alpha)," the CDC said in a statement. The alpha variant was first detected in the United Kingdom, and in April, it became the dominant strain in the U.S.
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“In the UK, the Delta variant is rapidly emerging as the dominant variant. It is replacing the B.1.1.7 (strain),” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Tuesday. “We cannot let that happen in the United States.”
The Delta variant has accounted for more than 60% of all new cases in the United Kingdom in recent months, according to researchers. The variant is also largely responsible for a massive spike in infections and deaths in India, clogging hospital systems and stretching health care workers to the breaking point.
Fauci and other officials say that particular variant is more contagious than others, and may be associated with a higher risk of hospitalization than previous strains of the virus.
As such, health officials are urging more people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as a way to prevent the variants from further spreading, pointing to research indicating the three available vaccines in the U.S. are effective against the different strains.
A study out of the U.K. showed that the Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA vaccine is 88% effective against the delta variant two weeks after the second dose.
Other preliminary data showed that the antibodies produced by Pfizer and Moderna's mRNA vaccines were able to neutralize the delta variant. And the Johnson and Johnson single dose vaccine appears to be effective, health officials have said.
But Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Thursday revealed what concerns him most about the new delta variant is that children under 12 cannot yet get vaccinated against COVID-19.
"What I'm concerned about is that we don't yet have a vaccine for kids under 12 years old, and the delta variant seems to have been predominant among people who are unvaccinated," Pritzker said when asked about the variant at an unrelated news conference.
"And so those kids are who I'm focused on," he continued, adding, "25% of the cases I've now read, of the new cases of COVID, are coming from that age group, under 12, and so we're keeping a close eye on it. But so far anyway, it appears that the available vaccines are resistant to the delta variant."