WashU Expert Talks Delta Variant & Vaccines as Variant Fuels Missouri’s Surge of COVID-19 Cases

    By Kathleen Berger, Executive Producer for Science & Technology

    The US government deployed a COVID-19 surge team to provide health support in southwest Missouri, where the spread is filling hospital beds. The surge of COVID-19 cases is so high in the city of Springfield, that the CoxHealth hospital system began transferring patients infected with the virus to other facilities to provide better staffing.

    In July,  the Missouri COVID-19 caseload became the second highest in the country, according to Johns Hopkins University data, with 15.5 new cases per 100,000 people daily, or 108 cases per 100,000 people. Arkansas claimed the highest rate.

    Experts say the Delta variant has put Springfield in the national spotlight. According to health leaders in Springfield, the aggressive Delta variant is responsible for 93% percent of COVID-19 cases in the area. And experts say the Delta variant is spreading fast in Missouri

    “I would argue that it’s the Delta variant that we’re seeing in St. Charles County, St. Louis County, St. Louis City, Jefferson County, “ said pediatric infectious diseases physician Jason Newland, M.D., M.Ed, professor of pediatrics, infectious diseases at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. “All the numbers have increased.”

    Newland strongly recommended COVID-19 vaccines.

    “The Pfizer vaccine has been reported to be 93% effective against the Delta variant strain,” said Newland. “What people should know is a variant is essentially a different version. One might even say it’s gotten a little smarter. It’s made itself more fit, meaning it can start infecting other people better.”

    Newland said the Delta variant may infect some vaccinated people, but vaccinations provide protection.

    “All the vaccines, I should say Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson, are almost 100% effective against severe life-threatening COVID-19 disease. Whether it’s the Delta variant, Alpha variant or whatever new variant so far, it turns this potential fatal respiratory virus into a common cold or nothing.”

    Newland explained he is collecting data that proves how well the COVID-19 vaccines work when people are fully vaccinated.

    “Being someone that’s doing a lot of testing in the community- currently we have some testing projects ongoing to provide access to testing – and over the last couple of weeks, we’ve had more positives. I have not had one person that’s positive that’s been vaccinated. They’re all unvaccinated individuals.”

    Newland said he is concerned about increased hospitalizations.

    “When I’ve talked to my good colleague and friend down in Springfield and they’re taking care of a lot of COVID-19 patients right now, his response to me was, ‘You know what, back at the beginning of the pandemic, I kind of knew who was going to be the real sick ones and who was going to have a breathing tube, who was going to be in the intensive care unit. It was going to be the elderly. It was going to be people that had a lot of other medical conditions. One of the big ones was those who are obese. Now, I can’t predict it as well except for the fact that they’re unvaccinated,’” explained Newland.

    Newland expressed concerns for the unvaccinated, urging people who are eligible for vaccines to get vaccinated.

    “Because you could be one of those 30-year old healthy people with a couple of kids, and you can get really sick and land in the ICU,” said Newland. “And especially now when we have a vaccine that works, that’s hard, right? It’s preventable.”

    Newland said masks offer real protection.

    “We’re all on a different journey when it comes to our comfort level with mask or not mask. First and foremost, we know that the while the vaccines are great and they turn this really bad virus that really can make you really, really sick into not making us sick. And some people are just like, ‘I don’t want to be sick at all.’  And we have definitely learned masks work, right? We have learned that you wear a mask, it is protecting you and it’s probably protecting us a lot better than we even realized it was.”

    “Now if you’re going into a situation where you’re not sure who’s vaccinated and who’s not vaccinated, especially with what we’re seeing in Missouri as of (early) July. I think wearing a mask in those situations when you’re vaccinated, and you don’t know who is unvaccinated, that’s a way to prevent getting the virus on another level, right? You might have 90% effectiveness with vaccine, but now you jumped it up to 100% with the mask,” Newland explained.

    Newland explained there are ways to continue the indoor activities and events that people enjoy.

    “What we then have to get to is that understanding that we’re all kind of different on our journeys of where we’re going to be with masks or not masks. And then let’s just support people. Let’s just support and use what we know that masks work, vaccines are working great. And then let’s make sure we can continue to have these fun things by doing these mitigation strategies, whether it’s vaccinating, wearing our masks, and not coming out when we’re sick.”