With the delta variant already spreading across Missouri — in some places contributing to a surge in hospitalizations — another related variant is already on the radar.
Experts are not yet sure if the delta plus variant is more transmissible or if it causes more severe illness, said Dana Hawkinson, medical director of infection prevention and control at The University of Kansas Health System.
“The delta plus is of the same lineage of that delta, it just has a couple different mutations in particular,” he said. “It is really not as prevalent as the delta right now.”
Delta plus has been identified in nearly a dozen countries including the U.S., according to The New York Times. However, it is not yet listed as a variant concern with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“As far as delta plus, there really isn’t much science or information about that,” Hawkinson said.
The delta plus variant was first reported by the Public Health of England after a routine scan of the delta variant, which first ravaged India, detected the new variant.
Health officials in England highlighted that the variant had a mutation in its spike protein, impacting how the virus attaches to cells. There’s not much data at this time on whether the mutation is more dangerous.
The delta variant has been found in more than 85 countries, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
The spread of that variant has prompted places including Los Angeles to re-issue a recommendation to wear mask indoors even if vaccinated.
Last month, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services said it was seeing a rise in cases from the “highly transmissible” delta variant. The CDC said 29% of the specimens in Missouri were the delta variant, the highest rate in the country.
Hospital officials have grown increasingly worried the past few weeks as the delta variant circulates around Missouri, especially in areas with low vaccination rates.
On July 4, Mercy Springfield had a record 116 COVID-19 patients. Chief administrative officer Erik Frederick posted on social media that the hospital had run out of ventilators. Mercy hospitals in St. Louis and Northwest Arkansas were sending their supply, Frederick said.
On Tuesday, the Springfield hospital reported 122 COVID-19 patients.
The CEO of CoxHealth in Springfield said they had enough ventilators but that they needed more staff to deal with “surging COVID volumes.” Steve Edwards put out a call on social media for respiratory therapists on Tuesday.
It’s unclear how many people have died from the delta variant, but there have been deaths in Kansas and Missouri from it.
Officials, including Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, have encouraged people to get vaccinated.
“The bottom line that people need to know: this virus is still here, and it’s going to be here,” Parson said last week. “It’s just not going to go away.”
Mark Steele, chief medical officer at Truman Medical Center, said people who have not been vaccinated are most at risk.
“That group of individuals needs to be very careful about masking and social distancing and obviously, we strongly encourage that they get vaccinated as soon as possible,” Steele said. “The risk obviously for everyone in general is that if we continue to have people that the virus can infect, then we’re at risk of developing additional mutations and we hope we don’t get one that then renders the current vaccinate somewhat ineffective.”
Missouri has recorded 528,802 total cases including 9,340 deaths. It has administered 4,992,721 vaccine doses, with 44.8% of its population initiating vaccination.
Kansas has identified 318,515 total cases including 5,159 deaths. It has administered 2,350,066 vaccine doses, with 44.4% of its population initiating vaccination.