What to Know
- The delta variant has been found in 57% of positive NYC samples studied, up from 41% in the health department's last report
- That strain is now the dominant one in New Jersey as well
- Existing vaccines have proven effective protection against the variant; virtually all new COVID deaths and hospitalizations are among unvaccinated people, officials at all levels of government say
The highly transmissible delta variant is now the most dominant COVID-19 strain in New York City, soaring from about a quarter of tested positive samples to nearly 60% in just two weeks -- and virtually every important infection metric in the city is getting worse too.
As the world's eyes turn toward Tokyo for the Olympics -- under a state of emergency and with more than 100 Games participants already sidelined by infection -- pressure is rising here at home to do more to combat the highly infectious variant.
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As of Friday, the delta variant that first devastated India before spreading globally -- and is thought to be up to far more contagious than that first widely tracked alpha variant -- accounts for 57% of citywide samples tested in the last four weeks, according to the latest weekly data from the city's health department.
Mayor Bill de Blasio made a plea to private employers on his weekly radio appearance on WNYC to start mandating their employees get a COVID-19 vaccine.
"So, let me make the signal explicit. I'm calling upon all New York City employers, including our private hospitals, move immediately to some form of mandate whatever the maximum you feel you can do," de Blasio said.
It took only 14 days for delta to vault from the fourth most common COVID strain in the city to the first, overtaking first the so-called New York City strain that initially emerged in Washington Heights before spreading elsewhere, as well as other fast-spreading variants that first emerged in the UK and Brazil.
As delta spreads, worsening what the CDC has called a "pandemic of the unvaccinated," almost all of the key metrics are worsening in New York City -- still absolutely nowhere near the city's darkest days, but rising nonetheless.
Over the last two weeks, the percentage of people getting tested who test positive for the virus has nearly doubled, and now stands just over 2%. The rolling average of new daily cases is 32% higher than a week ago, and hospitalization averages are rising too.
The one bright spot, though? Deaths are in check, relatively speaking.
Pandemic of the Unvaccinated
Scientific evidence has shown delta spreads far more easily than earlier strains of the virus and causes more severe outcomes for those infected, prompting renewed pushes at all levels of government to get people vaccinated if they haven't been.
Delta, the variant that was first found in India and is now in at least 104 countries, has dramatically increased its prevalence across the U.S. over the last month, accounting now for well more than 80% of tested samples, according to the CDC.
The World Health Organization, which has called it the "fastest and fittest" variant yet, expects it to become the dominant strain globally.
Given the relatively minute subset of positive samples sequenced to assess potential strain variations, both CDC and local experts believe the prevalence of delta, which is classified as a variant of concern, to be much higher than reported.
The variant is being blamed for a surge in cases across the United States that has seen daily confirmed new cases rise almost 400% just since July 1 -- now more than 60,000 people a day testing positive nationwide, back to levels last seen in late April. While hospitalizations and daily deaths remain comparably low, those are lagging indicators and may rise as delta spreads in unvaccinated areas.
The latest data from the CDC shows they already are on the increase.
"There is a message that is crystal clear: this is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated," CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said recently. "We are seeing outbreaks of cases in parts of the country that have low vaccination coverage because unvaccinated people are at risk."
The White House says the Biden administration believes cases will continue to increase in the weeks ahead because of viral spread within low vaccination rate communities.
Existing vaccines are expected to protect people against delta and other variants of concern that have emerged, but with less than 60% fully immunized, delta's heightened transmissibility and associated risk has renewed concerns.
In New York City, where state data shows almost 65% of the adult population is fully vaccinated and more than 70% have had at least one shot, officials are warning of delta and doubling down on their message to get vaccinated with a sense of urgency that has been absent from the mayor's briefings the last month.
The city has also expanded its referral bonus program for local nonprofits and focused acutely on driving private practicing doctors to encourage their patients who haven't yet gotten vaccinated, for whatever reason, to get dosed now.
Now is an opportunity to sustain the city's progress against COVID-19, de Blasio says, and leverage existing vaccine effectiveness to curtail delta's spread.
Statewide, new daily COVID counts are closer to 1,500 the last few days than the roughly 300 to 400 Gov. Andrew Cuomo was reporting just a month ago. Daily deaths, for now, have reminded low.
Core viral rates are consistently at or near all-time pandemic lows in New Jersey as well. Like New York, the Garden State does monitor variant data, and like New York, it has seen the prevalence of delta rise throughout the state in recent weeks.
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