Presence of ‘Dangerous' Delta Strain in New NYC Cases Nearly Doubles, Data Shows

Longstanding COVID-19 states of emergency have expired in New York and New Jersey, where zero new in-hospital virus deaths were reported Friday for the 1st time in 11 months. But officials say the pandemic isn't yet over -- especially when it comes to low vaccination rate neighborhoods

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What to Know

  • The delta variant has been found in 5.6% of positive NYC samples studied, up from 4.9% in the health departments' last report; Dr. Anthony Fauci issued a new warning this week on that strain
  • New York's longstanding COVID-19 State of Emergency has expired after 474 days, but officials say the pandemic isn't yet over -- especially when it comes to low vaccination rate neighborhoods
  • Like NY, NJ has seen its core viral rates plunge in the last few months as vaccinations rise. On Friday, the state reported no new daily in-hospital COVID deaths for the first time since July 30, 2020

New health department data out Friday shows the presence of the so-called delta COVID variant in New York City has nearly doubled since officials' previous report, an increase reflective of national trends that have reignited U.S. recovery worries.

As of Friday, the delta variant that first devastated India before spreading globally -- and is thought to be up to 60% more transmissible than the first widely tracked contagious variant that emerged in the U.K. last year -- accounts for 10.3% of citywide samples tested in the last four weeks. That's up from 5.6% in city officials' previous report and up from 4.9% in the health department report before that.

Given the relatively minute subset of positive samples that are genetically sequenced to assess potential strain variations, both CDC and local New York City experts believe the prevalence of delta to be significantly higher than reported.

nyc health department
The city regularly updates its reporting on coronavirus variants.

Earlier this week, national disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci described delta as the "greatest threat" to America's pandemic recovery, while President Joe Biden warned Thursday that U.S. COVID deaths will rise as the worrisome delta variant spreads.

"Six hundred thousand-plus Americans have died, and with this delta variant you know there's going to be others as well. You know it's going to happen. We've got to get young people vaccinated," the president said, noting that delta appears to be "especially dangerous for young people," who have lower vaccination rates.

In New York City, where nearly 64% of adults are fully vaccinated, Mayor Bill de Blasio endeavored to make the process even more convenient this week. He expanded the city's in-home vaccination program, previously reserved for older New Yorkers and those with disabilities, to everyone and pledged to keep innovating.

"What we still see is vaccination works. The more people vaccinated the better," de Blasio said when asked about delta on his weekly WNYC radio segment Friday.

"We believe right now that the high level of vaccination in this city is the thing keeping COVID low," he added. "If something changes, we'll assess it. There's plenty of time to make adjustments."

Scientific evidence has shown the delta strain is likely to cause higher risks of transmission, reinfection or severe illness, as well as reduced vaccine effectiveness, which is why CDC and local city officials reclassified it as a "variant of concern."

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, said on Tuesday that the Delta variant is more contagious and causes more severe disease than others. In the last two weeks, the prevalence of cases resulting from it has doubled to just over 20%.

The B.1.1.7 strain, a previously dubbed "variant of concern" that first emerged in the U.K. and became the dominant strain in the U.S. earlier this year, is still the most common COVID strain in the five boroughs, accounting for 35.7% of samples tested in the latest four-week study period.

Experts, including Fauci and CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, believe it's only a matter of time before delta becomes the most prevalent strain in the U.S. It appears to be following a similar pattern as the U.K. variant, now known as Alpha, did.

Delta now accounts for about 20% of current U.S. cases (up from about 10% two weeks ago) and is roughly doubling its proliferation every two weeks.

Despite the transmissibility and worse outcome concern over delta, new daily cases in New York City and across the U.S. have plunged in recent months, along with new hospitalizations and deaths, as more people have gotten vaccinated.

In New York state, the number of COVID patients in intensive care units fell below 100 Friday for the first time, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said, while New Jersey reported zero new in-hospital virus deaths for the first time in 11 months.

With unvaccinated people accounting for nearly all new COVID deaths in the United States, officials are tripling down on an urgent message for all eligible to get dosed.

Pfizer's vaccine has proven effective against the delta variant, data shows. Other vaccines are thought to protect against that strain, as well as others that have emerged and will over time, as well.

Walensky recently underscored that point, saying, "As worrisome as this delta strain is with regard to its hyper transmissibility, our vaccines work."

Those who get vaccinated "will be protected," she said.

Still, so many Americans appear not to be heeding that message. The White House has acknowledged Biden will fall short of his goal to have at least 70% of Americans partially vaccinated by July 4.

Nearly 66% of U.S. adults have had at least one shot to date, CDC data shows, but less than half of those age 18 to 24 can say the same. Partial vaccination rates decline by age (42.1% for those 16 to 17 and 29.2% for those 12 to 15).  

Not sure how the process works? Check out our handy tri-state vaccine site finder and FAQs here

New York City and New Jersey Vaccine Providers

Click on each provider to find more information on scheduling appointments for the COVID-19 Vaccine.

Data: City of New York, State of New Jersey • Nina Lin / NBC

Those vaccination trends persist by age in New York, which ended its longstanding COVID emergency Thursday after 474 days and celebrated achieving Gov. Andrew Cuomo's 70% adult vaccination rate milestone last week with statewide fireworks.

According to the CDC's latest data, 71.5% of New York adults have had at least one dose. That number declines by age bracket -- 66.1% for those age 35 to 44, 56.8% for those age 26 to 34, 51.3% for those age 16 to 25 and 32.4% for kids 12-15.

In New Jersey, which hit Gov. Phil Murphy's vaccination benchmark of 4.7 million adults by June 30 nearly two weeks ahead of schedule, residents age 18 to 29 account for 14% of total doses administered in the state, while those age 16 to 17 and those age 12 to 15 each account for 2% of the total.

Health officials have been tracking Delta in the Garden State as well. That variant accounts for 7.3% of samples sequenced in the last four weeks. Murphy has twice declared new COVID cases in New Jersey to reflect "a pandemic of the unvaccinated" and joins Cuomo and national leaders in their united plea.

"There are more than 1,500 places statewide where you can get vaccinated," he tweeted. "Do your part to protect yourself, your family and your community."

Like New York, New Jersey has seen its core viral rates plunge in the last few months as vaccinations have increased. On Friday, the state reported no new daily in-hospital COVID deaths for the first time since July 30, 2020, Murphy said.

"There's only one way to make sure we have more days like yesterday," the governor tweeted. "Get vaccinated."

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