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Delta variant in Isle of Wight?

Is the delta variant to blame for Isle of Wight County’s rise in COVID-19 cases over the past month?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last Friday that coronavirus cases, after declining the past six months, rose by nearly 70% nationwide in the span of a week, fueled largely by a more contagious version of the disease now termed the delta variant, which began spreading through India late last year.

As of Isle of Wight County’s July 15 Board of Supervisors meeting, The Virginia Department of Health was reporting a cumulative 3,200 coronavirus cases in the county — a 34-case increase since the Board’s June 10 meeting.

According to Will Drewery, the county’s emergency management coordinator, the county’s daily new cases were at 1.5 per 100,000 residents as of June and have quadrupled over the past month to 6.2 per 100,000 as of July 15.

“There’s no explanation from the health department as far as that jump,” Drewery said, but he believes delta isn’t the culprit.

As of July 15, there were only four identified cases of the delta variant in the entire eastern region of Virginia, Drewery said, none of which are in the Western Tidewater Health District. All are unvaccinated people, he added. In fact, around 99% of the COVID-19 diagnoses the district is seeing are in unvaccinated people, Drewry said.

By July 16, the number of reported delta cases in the eastern region, which includes all of Hampton Roads and the Eastern Shore, had grown to 21 according to a new VDH dashboard that tracks the spread of “variants of concern.”

But the spread could be underreported.

“In regards to variant testing, every specimen collected that tests positive for COVID-19 is not automatically tested for variants,” said Amal Patel, the health district’s epidemiologist. “This is not due to capacity constraints but due to the testing lab having both been validated to perform variant testing and having the reagents to perform variant testing. DCLS, the state lab, performs variant testing on specimens they have tested as well as specimens tested at other labs that are submitted to DCLS for variant testing. Also, there are some private labs that do their own variant testing.”

Breakthrough cases, the term referring to infections that “break through” the vaccine’s protection — occurring two weeks or more after a person has received his or her final vaccine dose — have been known to occur, but chances are, “if they have been fully vaccinated, they’re not sick,” Drewery told Isle of Wight’s Board of Supervisors. “The vaccine, as you all know, is designed to prevent severe illness and hospitalization. So the vaccine works.”

Isle of Wight, he added, had the highest vaccination rate of each of the four localities that comprise the Western Tidewater Health District as of July 15. Drewery estimates close to 70% of the county’s roughly 37,000 residents have received at least one vaccine dose, taking into account federal doses not reported on the VDH dashboard.

From June 10 through July 15, Isle of Wight has seen three new coronavirus-related hospitalizations and its virus-related deaths have held at 70.

“We expect that number to go up as the death certificates are audited,” Drewery said. “As more death certificates are filed and they go through the auditing process with the epidemiologist, with the health department, and with the Department of Vital Records, we expect that number to go up.”

But those deaths could have occurred at any point during the pandemic, he said, and don’t necessarily reflect a new or recent uptick in fatalities.