The delta variant of COVID-19 accounted for nearly half of the Nevada cases analyzed by the state’s public health laboratory in the past two weeks, according to a new report.
The variant, first identified in India, made up about 46 percent of the analyzed cases in the latest data. Last week, it made up only about 16 percent.
“Its frequency among positive cases in Nevada has tripled,” said Mark Pandori, director of the Nevada State Public Health Laboratory at the University of Nevada, Reno, School of Medicine. “The viruses that unvaccinated people are facing right now are the Olympic champions of infecting people.”
The latest report shows the delta variant is now the most widespread variant in Nevada. Previously it was the alpha variant out of the U.K., which made up about 31 percent of cases analyzed in the past two weeks.
Each day the laboratory analyzes the genetic code of virus specimens taken from newly infected people, Pandori said. Reports tracking the newest strains, or variants, are published each week.
The delta variant’s foothold is growing as new cases trend upward in Nevada.
The state has the nation’s second-highest rate of new cases per capita, behind only Missouri, according to data compiled by The New York Times. In Clark County this week, the test positivity rate once again climbed above the World Health Organization’s goal of 5 percent.
Vaccination efforts increasing
In response to the trend, Gov. Steve Sisolak on Monday announced a “redoubling” of efforts by state and local health officials in getting the population vaccinated in Southern Nevada.
“We know that in the last year and a half, the effects of this deadly virus have not changed, but our tools to fight the virus have — we now have vaccines, which are highly effective at reducing the severity of cases, hospitalization and deaths,” Sisolak wrote in a statement Monday. “By working together to increase access and confidence in the vaccines, we can help bring these case numbers down and ensure our communities are healthy and safe.”
Pandori said the delta and alpha variants are known to spread more easily than other COVID-19 strains, with the delta variant being more contagious. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this month stated the delta variant may cause more severe disease.
Pandori said there is likely a connection between the delta variant’s proliferation and Nevada’s increase in new cases and test positivity rate. However, he said that recent increases in hospitalizations statewide were most likely due to an uptick in cases overall.
He added that COVID-19 vaccines are effective against the delta and alpha variants.
“My level of concern is moderate to high, but only for unvaccinated individuals,” he said.
However, there is concern that if the delta variant’s spread is not curbed, it could mutate again and become more dangerous, Pandori said. The best way to slow the spread is to vaccinate more of the population.
Close to 53 percent of Nevadans age 12 and older have started the vaccination process, according to state data published Monday. About 45 percent are fully vaccinated.
The average number of vaccines administered each day in the state has fallen steeply since mid-April, leading state and local officials to announce their enhanced efforts to vaccinate people in Southern Nevada.
Those efforts include:
— Launching and supporting mobile vaccine clinics statewide, both in urban and rural areas.
— Enrolling new providers to administer vaccines directly to patients.
— Offering more grant opportunities for community organizations to educate unvaccinated populations and increase turnout.
— Partnering with Southern Nevada businesses to offer incentives for residents to get vaccinated.
This month, Sisolak announced Vax Nevada Days, a state raffle in which vaccinated residents could win a total of $5 million in prizes, including college tuition and a $1 million grand prize. The first of eight weekly drawings will take place July 8.
Unvaccinated residents can locate opportunities to get innoculated in their county by going to NVCOVIDFighter.org.
Coronavirus testing locations can be found at the Nevada Health Response website: https://nvhealthresponse.nv.gov/find-covid-19-testing-in-nevada/