The delta variant of the COVID-19 virus is in the state and in Summit County, but exact numbers are not available and they are likely underrepresented.
Health officials continue to stress that vaccinations are the best way to protect against the coronavirus and the delta strain.
But some physicians are suggesting with the more contagious delta variant and some limited cases of vaccinated individuals getting COVID, though mild, people might consider re-masking while indoors.
How common is the delta strain in Summit County?
Currently, Ohio is only sampling some COVID positive tests for the variant statewide and that information is not broken down by county, Summit County Health Commissioner Donna Skoda said.
“What they’re assuming is the CDC says we have moderate community spread, so they are assuming most is the delta variant because that is what is so pervasive right now,” she said.
Joan Hall, Summit County Public Health communicable disease epidemiologist, said there are confirmed delta cases in Summit County, but it “is definitely an underrepresentation of delta cases, since variant testing is still done randomly on a limited number of samples.”
The testing for the delta variant can only be done on some types of COVID-19 tests, Ohio Department of Health spokeswoman Alicia Shoults said.
While the delta variant is the dominant virus strain in the U.S., that is not yet the case for Ohio.
As of the week ending July 3, delta accounted for nearly 52% of COVID-19 cases, unseating the alpha variant, B.1.1.7, which was first found in the United Kingdom, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In a news conference on Wednesday, Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, chief medical officer for the Ohio Department of Health, said the delta variant was present in more than 36% of the samples from June 20 through July 3. For the period from June 6 to 19, delta was present in 15% of samples.
How many fully vaccinated patients are getting COVID?
Data on “breakthrough cases,” or fully vaccinated people getting COVID-19, is collected on a statewide level and only for patients who are hospitalized or die, Shoults said. That approach is in line with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As of July 14, Ohio is reporting 184 breakthrough hospitalizations and 29 deaths. Shoults said “those numbers are remarkably low in the context of the number of Ohioans that are fully vaccinated.”
With 5,211,661 Ohioans having their second vaccine by June 30 (two weeks prior to July 14), this means about 0.003% of fully vaccinated Ohioans were hospitalized, and about .0005% died.
“COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective and are a critical tool to bring the pandemic under control,” Shoults said. “However, no vaccines are 100% effective at preventing illness. There is a small chance with each vaccine, much like there is with any vaccine, that despite being vaccinated, some people may still contract COVID-19.”
Who is dying or being hospitalized in Summit County with COVID?
Skoda said Summit County is seeing the same national trends of mostly unvaccinated people getting sick enough to be hospitalized. Patients also are younger than those seen earlier in the pandemic and getting sick or dying quicker, she said.
Drs. Thomas File and Shanu Agarwal, infectious disease physicians with Summa Health, said the majority of the hospitalized patients have been unvaccinated people.
The same is being seen at Cleveland Clinic Akron General, said Dr. Donald Dumford, medical director of infection control.
“The severe cases we are seeing in the hospital are still among the unvaccinated,” he said. “Even though there are some breakthrough cases among vaccinated people, these cases are almost always mild.”
Dr. Kevin Mineo, a primary care physician and medical director for Unity Health Network, said he doesn’t have practice-wide data for all providers, but he personally has seen more COVID cases in the past few months among vaccinated patients in his small subset of patients.
“As expected, those patients did not get severely ill or require hospitalization even though they were all in a high-risk category. Had they not received the vaccination, they would not have fared as well,” he said.
Akron-area hospitalizations for COVID have been mostly decreasing in recent months and weeks. On Thursday, Summa, Cleveland Clinic Akron General, Western Reserve Hospital and Akron Children’s Hospitals reported a total of 15 patients hospitalized for COVID. That compares to 318 on Dec. 15 during the height of the pandemic.
Should people consider masking up again?
Skoda also reiterated that vaccines aren’t 100% effective, and that there’s not an “all-or-nothing” answer about masking, even for vaccinated individuals.
“We don’t know everything about this virus. In any crowded situation, anytime you’re close to someone breathing the same air — running the risk of them being ill or coughing — it’s a good idea to protect yourself and wear a mask,” she said. “If you’re outdoors, it’s different.
“We’re just at a new level of protecting ourselves,” she said. “Vaccinated people should still be careful, particularly around children under 12 who cannot yet get the vaccine and people with underlying health issues.”
Akron General’s Dumford said it is important to respect the requests of those around you when it comes to mask-wearing.
“Personally, I have gone back to wearing a mask indoors in public as the concerns of the delta variant have increased, as I have a young daughter who is not yet eligible to get a vaccine — so I’m doing everything to protect me to subsequently protect her,” he said.
Summa’s File and Agarwal said vaccinated patients who get COVID-19 are less likely to shed the virus to infect others and more likely to have a mild case.
But in light of the new variant, they said, it’s reasonable for vaccinated people with underlying medical conditions or immunocompromising conditions to wear masks, especially indoors in crowds.