Variants and Ventilators
The arrival of coronavirus variants over the past year provides evidence of the virus’s ability to adapt and stick around. The relatively new Delta variant, for example, is expected by many to cause increases in hospitalizations in some areas, particularly those with lower vaccination records. Consequently, these areas need readily accessible medical equipment, such as rapidly-scalable ventilators. The spread of the Delta variant serves as a reminder that although the U.S economy continues to fully reopen, life will have to settle into a “new normal.” The unanticipated spread of the Delta variant also reminds us that there will surely be unexpected global health crises in the future we will need to be prepared for by providing innovative and affordable medical solutions on a global scale.
What are Variants?
Viruses change through mutations and new variants can always be expected. Variants at times can emerge and disappear and other times they can persist. Multiple variants of COVID-19 have been documented globally throughout the pandemic. One of the first variants of the coronavirus was the Alpha variant which was detected around December 2020 in the U.K. The Beta variant was the second variant detected around December 2020 in South Africa and in the United States around January 2021. The Gamma variant was also detected in the United States in January 2021. This variant was first detected in an airport in Japan when screening travelers from Brazil. The most recent variant that is spreading at an alarming rate is the Delta variant, which was prominent in India by December 2020 and was detected in the United States by March 2021. Variants tend to spread faster which leads to an increase in COVID-19 cases. This creates a domino effect as more cases put a strain on healthcare resources. Hospitalizations tend to increase and more deaths can potentially occur.
Is Delta Deadly?
The Delta variant was first identified in India but has spread to at least 77 countries. Delta is forty to sixty percent more transmissible than the Alpha variant which was already fifty percent more transmissible than the original strain first detected in Wuhan, China. The United Kingdom is already seeing a surge in cases due to the Delta variant. The variant has already made its way to the United States and currently makes up more than twenty percent of all U.S. cases. At this rate, the Delta variant will become the dominant variant in the United States in the upcoming weeks. A study published in the Lancet found that the hospitalization rate of patients with the Delta variant was about eighty-five percent higher than people with the other variants. However, there is not enough data at the moment to simply declare that the Delta variant is more deadly.
Vaccination Numbers Drop
The Delta variant poses a number of concerns as cases continue to rise. The United States is not fully prepared because less than half of the population is fully vaccinated. The South and Mountain West are particularly more vulnerable due to the low vaccination numbers. This means we can expect to see localized outbreaks in places where vaccination numbers are low. Plummeting vaccination rates are concerning as the United States is averaging fewer than 1 million shots per day. In April, the country was administering 3.4 million shots a day at its peak. This slowdown is national as every state is down at least two-thirds from the peak in April. States such as Utah, Oklahoma, Montana, and West Virginia are doing fewer than 15 daily shots per 10,000 residents. However, states mainly on the East and West Coast have vaccinated 60-70 percent of the population.
What can we do?
The good news is that vaccination provides good protection against the Delta variant. According to the CDC, we should get the COVID-19 vaccine and continue to wash our hands often. Although vaccinated people do not need to wear a mask, you can wear a mask when going outside for extra protection.