What to Know
- The delta variant has been found in 83% of positive NYC samples studied, up from 72% in the health department's last report and 57% the week prior
- That strain is now the dominant one in New Jersey as well
- Existing vaccines have proven effective protection against the variant, though the government and vaccine makers now say booster shots will be necessary soon
The highly transmissible delta variant continues to burn through New York City, now accounting for 83% of all positive samples -- and every key indicator in the city is moving in the wrong direction.
The situation is deteriorating so quickly, in fact, that as of Friday, all five boroughs of the city now meet the CDC guidelines to be considered "high transmission" areas where extra precautions should be taken, including universal indoor masking.
New confirmed plus probable cases are up 25% in the city versus a week prior, and up 70% versus two weeks prior. The seven-day rolling averages for positive tests in general, positive tests as a percentage of all tests, hospitalizations and deaths are all higher than the 28-day averages, suggesting a steepening curve.
To be sure, there are some faint signs of optimism -- the daily new case totals did finally drop a bit this week after weeks of unabated increases. Vaccinations are on the rise too, spurred by the city's offer of $100 for every first dose, as well as new measures increasingly closing daily life to the unvaccinated.
But the fight against the delta variant isn't anywhere close to over, it's only just beginning, as Mayor Bill de Blasio and other city leaders have made clear.
An unreleased CDC presentation, obtained by NBC News, underlines the rising severity of the situation -- an estimated 35,000 symptomatic infections a week nationwide among those who are already fully vaccinated.
(Even so, the unvaccinated are still eight times more likely to get infected, and 25 times more likely to be hospitalized or die, the CDC has said.)
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 83% of citywide samples tested in the last four weeks, according to the latest weekly data from the city's health department.
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. Those latter two "variants of concern" now account for less than 10% of new city cases.
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 almost doubled, and now stands at nearly 3.3%.
Pandemic of the Unvaccinated
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.
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.
Officials now believe the delta variant may be more contagious than a common cold and just as contagious as the chickenpox -- well known to generations of parents as one of life's most catchable viruses.
Vaccinated people infected with delta may have the same viral load as an infected unvaccinated person, and be just as contagious, the CDC says.
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 six-fold since July 1 -- now more than 120,000 people a day testing positive nationwide, back to levels last seen in early March. 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.
The situation is so urgent that New York City will now pay unvaccinated people $100 to get their first dose at a city-run site. As of mid-September, vaccines will be required to dine indoors, work out at a gym or attend any sort of indoor entertainment.
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 3,000 the last few days than the roughly 300 to 400 the state was reporting in early July. Daily deaths, for now, have reminded low.
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