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Health

Worry Rises As a More Infectious COVID Variant Begins Spreading In Tennessee

VUMC-employees-on-COVID-unit-first-vaccinations-by-BF.jpeg
Blake Farmer
/
WPLN

A more infectious strain of the COVID-19 virus, known as the Delta variant, is on the move in Tennessee. The state’s health department has counted about 20 cases so far, concentrated in Shelby County.

The number is almost certainly an undercount since a majority of positive COVID tests are not screened to determine the particular strain. And if they’re not distributed statewide yet, they won’t be isolated for long.

“Just like with any variant, people travel. So will the variant,” says Dr. Lisa Piercey, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Health.

The variant, first discovered in India, is turning out to be more contagious and more likely to send people to the hospital. It’s led to a surge of cases in southwest Missouri in recent weeks.

However, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines seem to be effective at preventing serious disease, underscoring the need for more people to take the vaccine. Southwest Missouri, like parts of rural Tennessee, still has counties with just a third of residents fully vaccinated.

For Tennesseans who haven’t taken the vaccine or who don’t have some natural immunity through recovering from COVID already, it’s just a matter of time before one of the variants reaches them, Piercey says.

“You will either ultimately be vaccinated or be infected,” she says. “We want people to hurry up and get vaccinated because these variants are starting to spread here.”

Already, the U.K. variant has become the dominant strain in Tennessee. The Delta variant will first appear on the state’s bi-weekly “critical indicator report” on Friday.