In-Depth: Delta variant of COVID-19 starting to spread nationwide

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — The Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus is spreading nationwide. Locally, doctors believe it is now present in our region and they are most concerned about its spread in counties with low vaccination rates. The highly transmissible variant is likely to become the dominant strain in the United States over the next few weeks.

The good news is that the current vaccines for COVID-19 are working.

"They offer very good protection against this variant and the others,” Dr. Emil Lesho, an infectious disease expert at Rochester Regional Health, said.

The bad news for doctors is that several counties in our region still have vaccination rates lower than 60%, and several zip codes within all of our counties are at or under 30%.

"They are the areas that are at-risk, most of the people in those areas are unvaccinated, and that’s where the Delta variant could quickly spread and cause a spike in infections and hospitalizations," Lesho said.

The World Health Organization suggested last week that even those who are vaccinated continue to wear masks to protect themselves and others in public settings.

Locally, Dr. Mike Mendoza, the Monroe County Health Commissioner, told News10NBC earlier this week, he doesn’t think that is necessary at that point.

“I do think, given how good our numbers are right now, I have no concern that the Delta variant is rampant in Monroe County at all," Mendoza said. "So, I think we’ll follow the data and we’ll see how things progress across the state and the region, and then will re-evaluate, but right now, I don’t think there’s any reason for vaccinated people here in Monroe County to have to wear a mask.”

Lesho agrees but says if people feel more comfortable wearing masks in higher-risk situations, there is no harm. As for how widespread the Delta variant is locally right now, that’s still a bit unclear.

"Only a small percent of the tests that are positive are sequenced, and that’s because it requires a lot of labor, and it’s very complicated, technically complicated," Lesho said. "It requires reagents and equipment that’s often, like everything else, in short supply."

The best protection against the Delta variant, according to doctors, is to get the vaccine. For information on times/locations of vaccine clinics, visit the Finger Lakes COVID-19 Vaccine Hub.