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Wisconsin health officials now tracking new COVID-19 'variant of concern'
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Wisconsin health officials now tracking new COVID-19 'variant of concern'

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COVID-19 coronavirus

Electron microscope image of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services is now tracking a new variant of COVID-19, the Delta variant, as a “variant of concern” in the state and is encouraging residents to keep getting vaccinated to protect against its spread.

The Delta strain, which officials say is fueling the COVID-19 surge in the United Kingdom, was previously listed as a variant of interest but has now been elevated to a variant of concern, DHS said.

That’s because the Delta variant is more contagious and vaccines might be less effective against it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Antibody treatments also have the potential to be less effective against the Delta variant, which was first identified in India in October 2020.

DHS said the vaccines available in the U.S. have been shown to provide some protection against the Delta variant. It’s unclear whether the variant has an impact on how severe of a case someone might get.

Since April, 26 cases of the Delta variant have been identified in Wisconsin. DHS Secretary-designee Karen Timberlake said it’s important for residents to get vaccinated so COVID-19 doesn’t mutate into something that the vaccines are even less effective against.

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“We urge Wisconsinites to protect themselves, their families, and their communities by getting vaccinated,” Timberlake said. “The sooner people get vaccinated against COVID-19, the less opportunity for the virus to keep mutating.”

Timberlake said an increasing proportion of COVID-19 cases in the state are variants of concern.

The Wisconsin health department has been tracking the Delta variant and is going to begin reporting case counts Thursday. The department is tracking five other variants of concern in the state.

There are three classes of COVID-19 variants: variants of interest, variants of concern and variants of high consequence. No COVID-19 variants thus far have risen to the level of high consequence, which would show significant resistance to the vaccines and result in increased hospitalizations, according to the CDC.

But even the newest variant of concern, the Delta variant, is wreaking havoc in the U.K. The highly contagious Delta variant made up more than 90% of the U.K.’s new COVID-19 cases and led to the delay of England’s reopening as cases rise.

Health officials worry that the Delta variant could become the dominant COVID-19 strain in the U.S., threatening to reverse declining case counts. The Delta variant is about 60% more transmissible than the Alpha variant, the current dominant strain in the U.S., according to Public Health England.

On Tuesday, DHS reported 45 new COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin and a seven-day average of 90 daily cases, the lowest seven-day average since March 26, 2020. Four new COVID-19-related deaths were reported.

'Every aspect of our lives has been turned on its head': The COVID-19 pandemic one year on

A year into a once-in-a-century pandemic, Madison and Wisconsin continue to grapple with a virus that's killed thousands, destroyed businesses, upended school and changed nearly all aspects of everyday life.

It's been 12 months of grief, shutdowns, reopenings, protective measures, partisan fighting, lawsuits and loss. And now, hope. 

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“Truly every aspect of our lives has been turned on its head,” said Malia Jones, a UW-Madison infectious disease epidemiologist. 

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"If you would have told me last March that we'd be virtual for a year, I'd never, ever would have believed it."

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"We’re used to taking whatever comes through the door," said nurse Maria Hanson, who started journaling about the pandemic soon after treating the patient.

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"It’s a risk vs. reward thing and I risk my life to save others," said Brandon Jones, who always worried about bringing the virus home to his wife and two kids.

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“Usually a funeral is a major step in understanding that a life was lived and the person is now gone,” he said. “If families don’t get that, it’s just really hard.”

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Rev. Marcus Allen knew what bringing everyone together could do for their spiritual and mental health. But each time he considered reopening the church, COVID-19 cases surged.

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"I was getting my work done from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. every day," she said.

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“Reporting the death counts out day after day was draining,” she said. “It felt like I was announcing a funeral every day.”

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A year into a once-in-a-century pandemic, Madison and Wisconsin continue to grapple with a virus that's killed thousands, destroyed businesses…

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COVID-19 changed nearly everything about our world, even how we see it. Here are some of the State Journal's top images of the pandemic.

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