What the new Delta coronavirus variant could mean for Milwaukee area's reopening

NOW: What the new Delta coronavirus variant could mean for Milwaukee area’s reopening

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- You may have heard of a new variant called the Delta variant or B.1.617.2. It's the dominant variant in India and the United Kingdom, but it has now made its way to the United States. So what does this mean for the Milwaukee area amid the remarkable progress we've made up to this point?

"The nature of any pandemic is that if it's raging in one part of the world it's only a matter of time before it rages in the other part of the world," said Dr. Minhaj Husain, infectious disease physician at Advocate Aurora Healthcare.

"The UK seems to be entering a third wave of disease, seeing more than a doubling in daily cases in the last 10 days, and it's important to note the UK has nearly identical vaccination rates as what we have in the United States," says Dr. Ben Weston, associate professor at Medical College of Wisconsin and medical director for Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management.

Doctors say this new Delta variant poses a threat to communities and areas where vaccination rates are not where they should be. Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management says the Delta variant is 40-percent more contagious than the current dominant B.1.1.7 or Alpha variant.

"The unvaccinated people are all going to be at serious risk," said Dr. William Hartman, principal investigator for the UW Health AstraZeneca vaccine trial.

"We've made a lot of progress and we are doing well at this point of time, but that doesn't mean things could take a backstep very quickly," adds Dr. Husain.

Doctors say it's important people get vaccinated with both doses. In a study published in The Lancet, the Pfizer vaccine is only 33-percent effective against the Delta variant after one dose, but 88-percent effective after the second dose.

"That's why we do encourage everyone who has not been vaccinated to not delay their second vaccine and get both vaccines within the three to four-week time period as they can," Dr. Husain said.

"This particular variant is already making up about 6-percent of cases here in the U.S., and it's probably higher than that," adds Dr. Hartman.

While Milwaukee's health order may already be lifted, the U.K. has seen an increase in hospitalizations and cases, putting their reopening in jeopardy. 

"They were supposed to lift some restrictions on June 21 and they're looking to see whether they should delay that at this point," Dr. Hartman says.

Dr. Husain encourages unvaccinated people to continue wearing their masks. 

"If we keep our protective measures strong, then hopefully we can stop the spread before it becomes the dominant variety. It's still not quite the dominant one yet, but it definitely has the potential to become so in a matter of weeks to months," Dr. Husain adds. "Now I'm seeing a lot of places that masks are no longer mandatory and they're only optional, I would still recommend people who are not vaccinated to wear masks when they go out."

Dr. Hartman says the Delta variant could escalate quickly in communities of color with lower vaccination rates.

In Milwaukee County, only 26-percent of the African American community is vaccinated, according to Dr. Weston.

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