The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now labeling the coronavirus "Delta variant" as a strain of concern.
The Delta variant was first detected in India in February and is believed to be up to 60% more transmissible than the original coronavirus strain.
"The Delta variant has taken a toll in India. What we know about it so far is that it is much easier to transmit from one person to another. It has also increased the rate of hospitalizations in the United Kingdom, more than the UK variant which is now called the Alpha variant," said Dr. Suman Radhakrishna, the Director of Infectious Disease for Dignity Health California Hospital.
Some health professionals believe the Delta variant could become a dominant variant in the U.S. within a month's time, but Dr. Radhakrishna said it is still unknown how prevalent the variant will end up being in the United States.
"We don't know what that new variant is going to do in the United States. It has done a number in India. We know it is impacting negatively in the UK. It has come to our country and we really don't know what it's going to do," she said.
The Delta variant poses a major risk to the unvaccinated population and people who are immuno-compromised.
"There are still a fair number of people who are not vaccinated and then there's also the other population that is vaccinated but has other immune issues like a transplant or has been undergoing chemotherapy so that subgroup even if vaccinated may have not mounted a good enough response," Radhakrishna said. "We have these two groups that are sitting and if it passes through them and there's a superspreader event then it's going to be a problem again and we do not want to go back. We've had enough. Everyone's tired of sitting at home."
Studies show the vaccines, including Pfizer and Moderna, appear to be protective against the variant.
"The vaccine is still protective. One dose is not enough. You need to have both doses and two weeks after in order to be protected. A study showed that with the Pfizer vaccine, about 79% of protection was achieved and over 96% of the people who received the vaccine, even if they got infected, did not go to the hospital so it is not deadly if you're vaccinated," she said.
While the state of California has reopened, and COVID-19 restrictions are easing, a lot of Socal residents continue to wear their masks, and Dr. Radhakrishna said that is a wise decision in some settings.
"If you're going into a mixed crowd where you are not sure of who’s vaccinated and who's not and it's an indoor event then some level of caution is still a good idea and at the end of the day, each person has to make his or her own decisions. When in doubt, mask up and keep that social distance still until all these circulating variants go away and we are truly COVID free. If there's COVID anywhere in the world, we aren't necessarily COVID free even if our numbers are low," she said.
The COVID-19 virus will continue to evolve like other infectious diseases.
"There are mutations that are constantly happening, not all mutations come to the forefront. If everybody's vaccinated and there is a certain level of herd immunity, it can never take hold in the population even if it is spreading like wildfire elsewhere so that's the reasoning behind us saying you have to do your part," said Radhakrishna.
While some studies show the virus is more transmittable in colder months, it can also be transmittable in warmer months, and there was a surge in California in June and July of 2020.
"Now that we have learned some things about it [coronavirus], we know what we can do in order to prevent it from being fatal. Let's take care of that and hope it fizzles and then we won't have to talk about this anymore. I hope that we all proceed with caution and that way we can stay healthy as the economy opens up and continue to have and get back to normalcy as quickly as we can," said Dr. Radhakrishna.
The Delta variant symptoms can be different from other signs of COVID-19 in some cases. The most prevalent Delta variant symptoms appear to include headaches, a sore throat and runny nose.