Delta variant is now dominant in Idaho, contributing to child infections

By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare stressed Tuesday that the number of coronavirus illnesses among unvaccinated people continues to rise. 

The Delta variant of COVID-19, which is more transmissible, is now believed to be the dominant coronavirus variant in the state. 

The test positivity rate in the state is also climbing again, now at about 8%. That’s above the state’s goal of getting it below 5%.

Dr. Christopher Ball, chief of the Idaho Bureau of Laboratories, said that in mid-May to mid-June, the Alpha variant was the most dominant in Idaho, making up about 76% of cases. 

But in mid-June to mid-July, sample sequences show that Delta made up 81.3% of the state’s COVID-19 cases, said Ball.

Dr. Kathryn Turner, deputy state epidemiologist, said Tuesday that the Delta variant is believed to be twice as transmissible as other COVID-19 variants. The incubation period of Delta, meaning the time between when the virus enters the body and a person can spread the virus, is likely also shorter, contributing to faster spread. 

A person infected with the Delta variant, on average, spreads the virus to 5 to 9 other people.

With the rise of Delta infections in Idaho, Turner said childhood coronavirus infections have also substantially increased. 

Children ages 0 to 4 have seen a 200% increase in the number of infections over the last two weeks. 

Two weeks ago, the state reported that 16 of every 100,000 0 to 4-year-olds in Idaho had contracted the coronavirus. On Saturday, that number had jumped to 53 of every 100,000 0 to 4-year-olds, Turner said. Similar increases have been seen in children ages 5-12.

There is no vaccine approved yet for children younger than 12, which contributed to the CDC’s recent recommendation that schools mandate masks regardless of vaccination status. 

“I do think that 0- to 11-year-olds are our most vulnerable,” Turner said.

She said “it’s incumbent on the adults in their lives” to protect children who cannot yet be vaccinated. 

Idaho has documented at least 70 cases of the Delta variant of COVID-19, including some cases recently found in Valley County. 

Data shows the Delta variant is different from other versions of the virus because it’s much more contagious and some vaccinated people can get Delta in a breakthrough infection and may be contagious, according to Central District Health. 

In spite of that, health authorities stress that the vaccine is extremely effective at reducing the chance of serious illness, hospitalization and death if a person still contracts the virus.

IDHW Director Dave Jeppesen said Idaho does have vaccine doses widely available and he’s seeing vaccination rates increase. Idaho just passed the benchmark of 50% of people 12 and older getting at least a first dose.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does have an online map that details risk of transmission across the country by county. Many counties across Idaho are reported as having a substantial or high risk of transmission of the virus. 

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