880 In Depth: Studying the rise of the Delta variant and what it means for schools this fall

TRENTON, N.J. (WCBS 880) — While many Americans are beginning to see coronavirus as a thing of the past, medical experts are stressing that the pandemic is not over, especially as the Delta variant continues to surge.

This week, Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told government officials that the agency is estimating the Delta variant now accounts for 83% of all sequenced COVID-19 cases in the country.

The variant is already the dominant strain in New York, and is also surging in New Jersey.

In this week’s In Depth Podcast, we wanted to look at the rise of the Delta variant in the Tri-State area.

In our conversations, we spoke with New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli, who says the Delta variant is causing many people in the state to become seriously ill.

“In short four weeks, it's gone from about 4% of our sequence cases to 70%,” she said. “We’ve seen a 33% increase in hospitalizations.”

Even though New Jersey has one of the highest rates of vaccinations in the country, there is still vaccine hesitancy among Blacks and Latinos, that’s why the state is conducting outreach programs.

“If you bring the vaccine to an area, to a church, to a community where people feel safe, they will line up to get vaccinated,” Persichilli said.

The New Jersey health commissioner is worried that unvaccinated residents will be hit the hardest and says the healthcare systems can only do so much to protect everyone.

“My biggest concern is the capacity of all of our systems, overall, to protect the people in New Jersey to the highest degree,” she said.

Persichilli says COVID-19 is not to be taken lightly, especially the Delta variant.

“This is an unrelenting virus, and the way to stop it, is to get vaccinated,” she said.

We also spoke to Dr. Shetal Shah, a practicing neonatologist and a Professor of Pediatrics at New York Medical College part of the Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital in Westchester County, who weighed in on why we need to better protect school kids this fall.

“We’ve learned a lot about COVID over the past 16 months, but one of the most important things we’ve learned is that the pandemic and the virus can be somewhat unpredictable,” Dr. Shah said.

For that reason, the pediatrician says we need to be doing all we can to protect children under the age of 12, who are not yet eligible to receive the vaccine.

“We don’t know specifically if the Delta variant is more virulent in children,” Dr. Shah said. “What we do know is that the Delta variant is significantly more contagious than the previous or generic strains of COVID that are out there, and that’s very concerning.”

This week, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that all students over 2 years old, as well as school staff, wear masks this fall, regardless of vaccination status.

Dr. Shah says that recommendation is wise and notes with the uptick in cases, we should not be gambling with children’s lives, especially since we have not seen such a large congregation of children in one area since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.

Listen to the full conversation with New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli and Dr. Shetal Shah in this week’s In Depth Podcast, available wherever you get your podcasts.

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