COVID-19 Variants

Photo of microscope

Delta Variant (B.1.617.2) 

The Delta variant was first identified in India and is now widespread across the world. It is likely the dominant strain of COVID-19 in El Paso County, Colorado and the country. 

What’s different about the Delta variant? 

Variants of COVID-19 may be more easily transmissible (easier to become infected with and spread) and/or more severe (leading to worse symptoms, more hospitalizations and deaths). The Delta variant is more transmissible than the original COVID-19 virus and is widely believed to be the most transmissible of the COVID-19 variants. While the Delta variant may be able to evade some antibodies in our immune systems, it’s important to note that current data suggests that the COVID-19 vaccines appear to retain most of their effectiveness against the Delta variant.

Will the Delta variant lead to a new surge? 

The Delta variant spreads easily in areas where there are a large number of unvaccinated people possibly leading to a higher number of cases. Some of those increases are being seen in El Paso County. However, more than half of eligible people in El Paso County are fully vaccinated, which will slow the spread of the Delta variant. Because of the effect of the vaccine, scientists expect that any surge will be smaller than previous peaks. 
 
Will the vaccine prevent me from contracting the Delta variant? 

Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines appear to retain most of their effectiveness against the Delta variant. Vaccinated people who do contract the Delta variant tend to have milder reactions, and are much less likely to experience severe symptoms, hospitalizations or death. Data also suggests that vaccines reduce the odds of you transmitting the disease to others if infected. 

Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself 

Getting a vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and those around you from the Delta variant. Vaccination is likely to slow the spread of all the variants and reduce the odds that new, even more dangerous variants emerge. Those who are unvaccinated or cannot be vaccinated should consider wearing a mask and continue taking other prevention measures like avoiding large, indoor crowds to reduce the risk of becoming infected with COVID-19. 

About variants

Viruses constantly mutate, so new variants are to be expected. Sometimes new variants appear and simply go away, while others stay around. We know that there are multiple COVID-19 variants in the United States and across the world at this time.

COVID-19 is a type of coronavirus, a large family of viruses. Scientists monitor changes in the virus, including changes to the spikes on the surface of the virus. This field of study is helping scientists understand how changes to the virus might affect how it spreads and how sick it makes people.

Some COVID-19 variants seem to spread more easily and quickly, which means they could make more people sick. There is also early evidence that certain variants may also make people more sick. Experts are concerned that if a lot of people become sick at once, hospitals could become overcrowded and our health care system could be strained. That could potentially lead to more deaths. To prevent that from happening, you can take smart steps such as:

  • Getting vaccinated as soon as possible
  • Practicing social distancing
  • Washing your hands frequently
  • Limiting the number of people at gatherings
  • Following quarantine and isolation recommendations if you are exposed to someone with COVID-19 or you become sick. People who are contacts of variant cases will be highly recommended to complete a 14-day quarantine.

Do I need to wear a mask?
Per Gov. Polis' public health order, the general rule is that face coverings are not required any longer. For people who are not vaccinated or not fully vaccinated, it is suggested they wear a mask, though not required. Masks are still required for unvaccinated people or those not fully vaccinated in specific settings outlined in Colorado Public Health Order 20-38, and for everyone within businesses, organizations, agencies or municipalities that request masks be worn. Masks are optional for those 11 or younger, for those who can’t medically tolerate it and in other specific activities.

What you need to know

At this time, research trials show that the three COVID-19 vaccines authorized for emergency use — those made by Pfizer, Moderna and Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) — reduce the number of hospitalizations and deaths due to the virus to nearly zero, regardless of the strain of COVID-19 a person is infected with.

Some people may be hesitant to get a vaccine that has a lower “effectiveness” rating based on clinical trials. However, “effective” is a scientific term meaning that an infected person develops no symptoms at all or is immune to catching a virus. People who receive a vaccine with a lower “effectiveness” rating are a little more likely to develop mild symptoms, similar to a cold or a moderate flu.

It’s very important that eligible people receive a vaccine as soon as they can, regardless of the brand, as all available vaccines provide strong protection against severe illness and death.

It’s also important to know that should a COVID-19 variant ever severely impact the effectiveness of our vaccines, scientists and health officials are confident that the vaccines can be quickly adjusted to effectively combat the mutated virus with booster shots. In fact, that’s exactly what scientists do with the flu vaccine every year, adjusting it to effectively fight the mutated flu virus.

Multiple COVID-19 variants are circulating globally

The primary variants of most concern in the United States are the

  • UK variant (B.1.1.17) - identified in El Paso County
  • Brazil variant (P.1) - identified in El Paso County
  • South African variant (B.1.351) - identified in El Paso County
  •  Delta variant (B.1.617.2) - identified in El Paso County

At this point, research suggests that these variants spread more easily and quickly, which can lead to increased cases of COVID-19.

Studies indicate that the antibodies generated through the vaccines recognize these variants. The CDC continues to investigate this. The existing public health measures, now including vaccination, remain essential to limit the spread of the virus and the variants.

For more information on variants, please visit the CDC.

To learn more about variants in Colorado, visit the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's COVID-19 Data web page.