By Wesley Walter
With COVID-19 cases reaching near all-time highs in Alabama, there has been growing concern among health officials about the Delta variant, a newer, more transmissible variant of COVID-19. From Aug. 22 to 28 Alabama reported 28,000 new covid cases, the state’s second-highest weekly total since the beginning of the pandemic. This increase in cases is in part due to the increased prevalence of Delta variant infections, mainly in unvaccinated people.1
The Delta variant, which was first reported in India in early 2021, resulted from the genetic mutation that occurs when a virus replicates itself as it is transmitted from one person to another. It was first named as a variant of concern by the World Health Organization on May 10, 2021 and is currently believed to be a leading factor behind the spike COVID-19 cases being seen in many parts of the United States. 2
The Center for Disease Control estimates the Delta variant as being more than twice as contagious as previous COVID-19 variants. They also believe the variant could lead to more serious infections even among younger or more healthy people. 3
Although vaccines are still highly effective at reducing the risk of the Delta variant, it has also been found to be more transmissible among fully vaccinated people than previous COVID-19 variants. The CDC also reports that fully vaccinated people infected with the Delta variant can transmit the virus to others, although they appear to be contagious for a shorter period than unvaccinated people.4 Fully vaccinated people have also been shown to have less severe symptoms and according to the CDC are 29 times less likely to be hospitalized because of COVID. 5
The rise in cases brought on by the Delta variant has put increased strain on Alabama hospitals, with the state reaching a net negative in available ICU beds as of Aug. 20. While this does not necessarily mean the state’s hospitals are fully out of beds, it does mean there are more total patients needing intensive care than there are designated ICU beds.6 This deficit as of Aug. 30 has risen to 73 people in need of, but without access to ICU beds.7 The growing deficit could potentially mean that even if someone goes to the hospital for sickness or injuries unrelated to COVID, they may not be able to receive proper treatment due to a lack of available ICU beds.
As of Aug. 12, Shelby Baptist Medical Center reported having a weekly average of 86% ICU occupancy with only 4 available, unoccupied ICU beds. 8
To help stop the spread of the variant the CDC recommends anyone that is eligible to be vaccinated to do so. They also recommending the use of masks indoors and in public places by everyone, including vaccinated people. Despite this second lowest level of fully vaccinated people, and in Shelby County, only 26.1% of people are fully vaccinated.10 As of Aug. 19, 2021, Alabama also ranks no. 11 among all states with the highest rate of COVID-19 transmission.11
The growing number of cases has also sparked concern about the Alabama public school system having no statewide mask mandate. With many schools returning to fully in-person learning for the first time since the start of the pandemic, the lack of statewide rules requiring masks, coupled with the fact that children under 12 are unable to be vaccinated has raised concern that students will be put at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 or the Delta variant. With many schools being back in service for around a month, Alabama State Health Officer, Dr. Scott Harris stated that compared to this time last year Alabama has seen a 700% increase in children being infected with the virus. 12
As of Aug. 30, Shelby County schools will be requiring masks while indoors. This will make the district one of the two thirds of state school districts that will be requiring masks again. 13
In response to the growing number of cases, the University of Montevallo has also reinstated mask mandates indoors during class and has encouraged the use of masks in dorms and public spaces. While being vaccinated is not mandatory for attendance, the University of Montevallo also strongly encourages all students to get vaccinated. To help increase vaccinations, students are routinely sent emails that include information on where and how to get vaccinated as well as the Student Health Services providing voluntary COVID-19 testing services for students who believe they may be sick or exposed. 14
The University of Montevallo also hosted a vaccination clinic Aug. 27 offering first and second doses of the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccines free of charge. To help stop the spread the university urges students to practice proper hygiene and to not to attend class if they are feeling sick or exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms.