Tue | Jan 18, 2022

‘The fire that’s here’: US is still battling delta variant

Published:Friday | December 3, 2021 | 12:10 AM
Licensed practical nurse Yokasta Castro, of Warwick, RI, draws a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine into a syringe at a mass vaccination clinic, May 19 at Gillette Stadium, in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
Licensed practical nurse Yokasta Castro, of Warwick, RI, draws a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine into a syringe at a mass vaccination clinic, May 19 at Gillette Stadium, in Foxborough, Massachusetts.

While all eyes are on the new and little-understood omicron variant, the delta form of the coronavirus isn’t finished wreaking havoc in the US, sending record numbers of patients to the hospital in the Midwest and New England.

“Omicron is a spark that’s on the horizon. Delta variant is the fire that’s here today,” said Dr Nirav Shah, director of the state Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Maine, where an unprecedented 334 people were in the hospital with COVID-19 as of midweek.

The US recorded its first known omicron infection on Wednesday, in a fully vaccinated person who had returned to California from South Africa, where the variant was first identified just over a week ago.

Two more US cases were confirmed Thursday. One was in a Colorado woman who had recently travelled to southern Africa. The other was in a Minnesota man who had attended an anime convention in New York City just before Thanksgiving that drew an estimated 50,000 people. Minnesota officials said he had no history of international travel. That would suggest the variant has begun to spread within the US.

But there is much that is unknown about omicron, including whether it is more contagious than previous versions, makes people sicker or more easily thwarts the vaccine or breaks through the immunity that people get from a bout of COVID-19.

For now, the extra-contagious delta variant accounts for practically all cases in the US and continues to inflict misery at a time when many hospitals are struggling with shortages of nurses and a backlog of patients undergoing procedures that had been put off early in the pandemic.

The fear is that omicron will foist even more patients, and perhaps sicker ones, on to hospitals.

“For me, it’s really just, I can’t imagine,” said Dr Natasha Bhuyan, a family physician in Phoenix, which has also been hit hard. “Are we going to see another surge in cases that’s even higher than what we’re seeing now? What will that do to our health system? What will that do to our hospitals?”